IN their early days pueblo people made so much equipment from basketry materials that the first explorers called them the Basketmakers. Their product ranged from fringed skirts and sandals, through soft grass bags and stiff containers, to the house of poles and brush itself.
Then they took up pottery. They settled down, so it was safe to use breakable dishes and they no longer used baskets for cookery and storage. Even their house building was more like pottery than basketry. They began weaving and their clothes and bags were made of cloth. They let basketry die out, until at present only the Hopi make decorative baskets and then only in certain villages. Hopi, Zuni, Jemez and a few others make tough, useful baskets. But, taken all in all, the pueblos are basketmakers no longer. Styles have changed in this as in so many other things.
Yet, looking through the equipment of a pueblo, you find basketry methods in the most unexpected places-the chimney foundation, the cradle, the container for the bride's new clothes! There must be old memories of basketmaking days which have preserved these simple conveniences. Women-for they were the basketmakers-did not drop their old craft all at once. They tried a new method, like wickerwork, dropped an old one, like coiling, took coiling up again. In the course of their changing styles, they used all the main methods of basketry known to Indians of the United States.
The simplest of these is wickerwork, which is merely the weaving in and out of stiff twigs, over and under one another; it is like cloth weaving except that cloth needs a loom and wickerwork is done with fingers. The ancient house of poles and brush was wickerwork. The little brush windbreaks in the fields were wickerwork and they are still. Even in a clay or stone house, the support for the chimney hood may be wicker. The Hopi of the First and Third Mesa used wickerwork for the baby's cradle board. This is a bow of green wood with tough sumac stems tied across it with yucca or buckskin thongs. It is a specialty of the Hopi, for most of the other pueblos make their cradles from wood.
Almost all of them made a carrying basket in wickerwork. This deep container (Plate 11-1) had a foundation of tough twigs of sumac (Rhus trilo-bata) or barberry (Berberis fendleri) tied together in star shape. Other peeled twigs were woven across them, generally over two and under two. The twigs might be fine, making a close woven basket, or coarse, making an openwork one, good for carrying corn cobs or peaches. A buckskin carrying strap was tied through the wickerwork, as in the illustration. A man coming home from the field carried this basket on his back, with the strap across his forehead. Tradition says that, since men used the basket so much it was often they who made it, rather than the women. Such baskets ore still made by the Hopi men and women and they were made ot Zuni until a short time ago. Perhaps a few other pueblos weave them now and then.
Plate 11-1. Wicker basket for carrying fruit (Hopi).
Plate 11-2. Detail of wicker basket weave.
Between 1200 and 1300 A D. the Hopi began To use wickerwork for the beautiful colored trays, still made on Third Mesa. The material is sumac (Rhus trilobata) or rabbit brush of several kinds (Chrysothamnus graveolens, Bigelovia graveolens, Verbesina enceloidesl. The stems are peeled, rubbed with sandstone to remove irregularities and some of them ore dyed. To make the tray, a number of twigs are tied together like the ribs of an umbrella and others woven across them over one, under one (Plates 11-3, 4, 5), new ribs being added as the disk grows. When the edge of the tray is reached, the ends of the ribs are bent over and the rim finished with a spiral sewing of yucca leaf.
The pattern on these troys is so colorful and striking that some students have called it the most artistic basketry made in the United States. The figures represent birds or perhaps the dancing gods who visit the mesas to bring rain. Usually they are made by weaving in dyed twigs, but sometimes they are painted on the finished bosket, or parts of them are painted. The colors used were originally vegetable dyes and earth colors. Then, for a time, the Hopi took to commercial aniline colors, just as blanket weavers did. Now they are using the lovely old colors again with new vegetable dyes added. Their baskets have a large sale with the whites and are popular on the mesas too, as anyone would know who has seen the brilliant trays thrown in the air at the women's Basket Dance, when the young men scramble for them.