Kitsap Sun

GIG HARBOR — The Harbor History Museum is currently home to 250 baskets through October. The museum’s latest rotating exhibit, “Woven Stories: Native American Basketry of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” is a collection of both modern baskets from private collections and artifacts dating back to the 1800s.

The idea for the original exhibition was first presented to the museum about five years ago by a basket collector, who offered to display items from a personal exhibit. With the opening of the new museum, the idea came to fruition. Curator Victoria Blackwell visited more than a dozen households to find some of the objects.

“It materialized out of thin air because of all these people that are willing to share with us and the artifacts and the art that they collected,” said Harbor History Museum Executive Director Jennifer Kilmer.

The collection represents work of weavers from close to 30 Native tribes, and the exhibit includes information about the artistry behind each item, as well as the tradition of basket weaving.

“Each basket tells its own story of the woman who made it, who taught her, the materials she used,” Kilmer said.

The art of basket weaving included the process of gathering materials, which ranged from roots to tree bark. Originally, baskets were strictly utilitarian and were used for tasks such as cooking, collecting berries and holding babies. Once European settlers became interested in trading for baskets, they became more ornamental. Modern baskets, though now mostly used for décor or collecting, continue to use the same techniques, patterns and traditions, which were passed from one generation to another.

“I think it’s a pretty spectacular exhibit … a really great collection representing a lot of different bodies of work of individual weavers, and it’s unusual in the sense, you’re not going to see this many baskets elsewhere representing this many tribes and techniques all in one place,” Kilmer said.

The interest in basket weaving has been through a resurgence in the last few decades, with new materials being used, from yarn and fabrics to pine needles. The techniques, however, are frequently the same — although they vary from one continent to the next.

Native American baskets are especially valued today, gracing many personal collections.

“(Basket weaving) is (still) being passed down, just not at the same level. At one point in time, almost all of the women knew how to do this because they needed it for their cooking and supplies,” Kilmer said.

To give patrons a taste of the tradition, the museum will host several hands-on activities, both for adults and children. On Saturday, Aug. 13, there will be a basket-weaving children’s session, followed by two adult workshops Sept. 10 and 11. There also is a weaving station in the gallery with different materials people can touch, and an educational video.

The exhibit was partially funded by the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation and Kilmer said it would not have been possible without the collectors who are carrying for the objects.

“The reality is for any institution, it’s all about partnership,” she said. “It’s always about who we can bring together to make something great.”


To learn more about the exhibit, museum hours, admission fees and to sign up for the workshops, go to

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