At the beginning of the winter quarter, the students went to the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs to work with the staff of the museum on a collaborative project involving the conservation of basketry from the museum’s collection.
Their two-day visit to Palm Springs began with a talk from Native American basket weaver Abe Sanchez (Purapeche), who led the students in a basket-weaving workshop.
Students examine some of Abe’s beautiful coiled baskets. The one with the butterflies pictured here is sumac on a deergrass foundation using juncus and dyed juncus for the patterns.
Originally, the group had planned to go out with Abe to gather basket-making materials and see the plants in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, due to some unexpected inclement weather, this part of the trip had to be canceled, but Abe was generous enough to bring in some of his own materials for the students to examine and use.
Abe shows the students some juncus that he had gathered.
Juncus (Juncus textilis), a very important traditional basketry material, is one of the primary plants used in this region.
Following a delightful lunch, Agua Caliente Cultural Museum Curator Dawn Wellman led the students on a tour around the gallery, which currently showcases their collection of Cahuilla baskets, in an exhibition called ‘Song of the Basket.’
Dawn discusses one of the cases that focuses on the common materials and techniques in traditional Cahuilla coiled basketry.
Dawn has carefully put together a remarkable showcase from the museum’s collection (open through October 16, 2011), which includes pieces that past students from the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program have treated. Examining the exhibit provided a good forum for discussion between the students and the staff. Additionally, the students had the chance to consider the context in which the baskets they are treating might be viewed.
After the tour, Abe led the UCLA/Getty students, faculty, and some guests, in creating their own twined baskets. He started by explaining the methods used to make twined baskets, beginning with the basketry start (seen below).
The participants made baskets using the fresh juncus that Abe had brought. This is a good material for beginners because it is fairly pliable and easier to work with than the sumac that was used more frequently to traditionally make baskets in the region. Once everyone in our group had completed their basket starts, they continued on, adding additional juncus “spokes” to expand the basket base as they worked outwards.
The importance of shaping the basket as you progress (remembering that you shape the basket, the basket does not shape itself!) was emphasized.
In the end, everyone completed their own basketry project, and had a much better understanding of the techniques used to create twined basketry. Understanding construction techniques can help in determining cultural attribution, completing condition reports and recommending appropriate treatments.
Some of the particularly quick participants were able to complete two projects!
The following day, the students and faculty from the UCLA/Getty Master’s Program met with more members of the museum staff, to discuss tribal involvement in the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, as well as the museum’s history and future goals. Director Michael Hammond, Curator Dawn Wellman, and Archivist Jon Fletcher all spoke about different aspects of the museum. It was interesting for the UCLA/Getty Conservation program’s students and faculty to hear more about how the museum functions, and how integral each of the staff members is in ensuring the museum’s success. Agua Caliente Tribal Council Member Moraino Patencio then described the tribe’s participation in the museum, as well as the importance of cultural participation. Everyone then broke for a wonderful buffet lunch, before heading back for two more talks with Pattie Tuck and Agua Caliente tribal member Sean Milanovich, both members of the Agua Caliente Tribal Historic Preservation Office. For many of the students, this was their first time talking to members of a Native community about tribal involvement in cultural resource management.
Finally, at the end of the day, the students toured the museum storage facility with Dawn Wellman and Sean Milanovich (as seen above). Seeing the museum’s rich collection of baskets from the native community allowed the students to connect the construction techniques and materials discussed with Abe and Dawn the day before to the baskets from the museum collection.
Additionally, Dawn reviewed the objects that had been selected for treatment in the collection, which includes basketry from across Western North America. Dawn and Ellen discussed the possible treatments they envisioned for some of the pieces, as well as the objects’ known histories. The selected objects were taken to the UCLA/Getty Villa labs at the end of the trip so the students could begin examining and treating them, in consultation with museum staff and members of the tribal community, as part of the course “Conservation and Ethnography” (CAEM222).
Dawn Lohnas (’12)