New efforts preserve the museum's Native American basket collection

by University Communications,

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art recently completed a major collections management initiative focused on the museum’s collection of over 350 Native American baskets. The project addressed issues of storage, conservation, cataloging, and access to the collections. With funding provided by Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund, the museum built proper storage mounts, photographed all baskets in the collection; conducted a full conservation survey of the collection and treated 18 baskets (cleaning, reshaping, stabilizing, and repairing); gathered additional catalog information on over 100 baskets including cultural, technical, and material analysis; and uploaded all images and catalog information to a searchable online database.

The project team

  • Jonathan Bucci, Project Manager, Collection Curator, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
  • Rebecca Dobkins, Faculty Curator of Native American Art, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
  • Sara Swanborn, Collections Assistant, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
  • Tom Fuller, Northwest Objects Conservation, Inc.
  • Margaret Mathewson, Native Basketry Consultant and Ethnobotanist
  • Ceara Lewis, Research Assistant, Hallie Ford Museum of Art
  • Dale Peterson, Photographer

More on the history of the museum's Native American basket collection

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art has a strong collection of both traditional and contemporary baskets by Native American artists. The traditional art collection is focused on Northwest tribes with an emphasis on tribes from Oregon and more specifically the Willamette Valley. The earliest basket (shown to the right) to enter Willamette University's collection includes a basket given in 1840 to Rev. J.L. Parrish, a missionary and founding trustee of the university. Many of the baskets in the collection were collected by Edwin C. Cross of Salem during the 1890s and early 1900s, and were later given to the university by his daughter, Veda Cross Byrd. Others were collected by E.M. Polleski around the same period.

Anthropology professor Rebecca Dobkins initiated an inventory of the collection in the fall of 1997, assisted by Willamette students and Yvonne Lever, a graduate student at the University of Oregon at the time. In the spring of 1998, Margaret Mathewson, a respected ethnobotanist and expert on Native American basketry examined the collection and made further identifications based on weaving techniques, designs, and materials of manufacture. In the twenty-first century, many Native American artists and Willamette students have worked with the collection for research and exhibition purposes.

- Rebecca Dobkins
Professor of Anthropology, Willamette University
Faculty Curator of native American Art, Hallie Ford Museum of Art

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