Inheritance: Basketry of the Great Basin

washoe, paiute and shoshone artists featured in new stewart indian school exhibit

PHOTO/.STEWART INDIAN SCHOOL MUSEUM: Artist Ben Aleck incorporates the weaving tradition of Great Basin tribes in this painting, the image used for the postcard announcing the new Stewart Indian School basketry exhibit.

In the Great Basin, the craft – and art – of weaving baskets and other useful items from reeds and other plant fibers goes back more than 10,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age.

“The Washoe people have had strong tradition of basketry, as do the Paiute and Shoshone people,” said Bobbi Rahder, director of the Stewart Indian School Museum in Carson City. “They not only made baskets, but duck decoys, clothing, cradleboards, shoes and many of the other things they used in everyday life.”

That tradition continued into modern times. Today, Indigenous artists from across Nevada and the Great Basin are still weaving tules, willow stalks, horsehair and other natural materials to create beautiful objects.

The new exhibition at the Stewart Indian School Museum, “Inheritance: Basketry and Art of the Great Basin,” showcases the work of those modern and historic artists. The display, open through June 3 of next year, is a tapestry of tradition that invokes the cultural roots of the first Nevadans.

PHOTO/STEWART INDIAN SCHOOL: A large, dressed tule duck decoy created by Mike Williams (Fallon Paiute-Shoshone), on loan to the exhibition from Nevada’s Indian Territory.

Modern artists; timeless art

Melissa Melero-Moose, curator of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum at 1 Jacobsen Way in Carson City, said the exhibition includes woven objects as well as other related artworks.

“This basketry exhibition covers an array of mediums from miniature woven willow cradleboards and basket hats to paintings and drawings,” said Melero-Moose, who hails from the Fallon Paiute and Modoc tribes. “(We see) how basketry is interwoven into the Indigenous consciousness from generations before and generations to come.” 

“Inheritance: Basketry and Art of the Great Basin” displays pieces by invited artists from the Great Basin Native Artists Collective, which was founded by Melero-Moose; the Great Basin Native Basket Weavers Association; and the permanent collection of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum.

The artists’ collective

Among the featured artists in this new exhibition are Ben Aleck, Leah Brady, Loretta Burden, Rebecca Eagle, Sandra Eagle, Karma Henry, Micqaela Jones, Everett Pikyavit, Roger Salas, and Tanaya Winder.

The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum, 1 Jacobsen Way in Carson City, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and closed on state and federal holidays. The gift shop is open on Fridays. For more information, those interested may contact Bobbi Rahder, museum director, at 775-687-7606, or send an email to  brahder@nic.nv.gov, or visit the Stewart Indian School’s website.  More information about the Great Basin Native Artists Collective also can be found online.

Great Basin Native Artists is a collective of Indigenous artists living in, or originally from, the Great Basin areas of Nevada, California, Southern Oregon, Southern Idaho, and Utah. Their mission is to create better knowledge of the art and peoples of the Great Basin and to create opportunities for this underrepresented region in all forms of the arts, according  to Melero-Moose.

The Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum partnered with the artists’ collective last year to display contemporary Indigenous art in a dedicated gallery to honor the Stewart artists who managed the Wa-Pai-Shone Co-op at Stewart in the 1930s and 1940s.

A 90-year history

Stewart students and Paiute craftswomen made buckskin and beaded items, and Washoe and Shoshone craftswomen made baskets. All proceeds went to the artists. The trading posts were located at Stewart, Death Valley and Bishop, and Lake Tahoe.

Today, visitors can see items made by the Stewart artists as well as beadwork created by contemporary Indigenous artists at the cultural center, which opened in 2020 to interpret the history of Stewart Indian School.

Stewart was a federal government boarding school established in 1890 to teach Great Basin American Indian children English and vocational skills. The school, which operated from 1890 to 1980, on 240 acres located south of Carson City, was part of the federal government’s assimilation policy. During its 90 years of existence as a school, members of more than 200 tribes from the western U.S. were represented at the institution.

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