IACA Journal, Spring 2014 - page 7

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20th century. These square containers are made from two fitted
covers which form a pocket or envelope. Their exact use is not
known but they may have been used for personal medicine.
In the 1930’s Harriett Bedell , an Episcopal Deaconess and
missionary to the Cheyenne Nation, Alaskan Natives and the
Seminole Indians, encouraged Seminole women to make baskets
for the tourist economy. In addition to baskets, Bedell pushed
Seminole craftspeople to make and sell patchwork and objects
carved from wood. Bedell’s efforts to revive the tradition of
basket making focused on the types of smaller baskets desired
by tourists, therefore she urged women to make rectangular
storage containers, waste baskets, and small baskets similar to
berry baskets.
COILED SWEETGRASS BASKETS
Coiled baskets made from sweetgrass became popular in the
20th century for the tourist trade. Some sources suggest that
Deaconess Bedell was responsible for bringing this technique to
Seminole basket makers but oral histories and personal inter-
views describe how coil baskets were always made by Seminole
people, but that this technique was never popular until the
tourist economy blossomed in the 1930’s. The history of coiled
basket making among the Seminole people can also be con-
nected to contact and cultural exchange with white settlers and
African slaves, but no-one knows for sure.
The sweetgrass is collected, dried for several days, cut to a
uniform length, then grouped into coils of less than one finger
Mid 20th century postcard showing Seminole women displaying coiled sweetgrass baskets, probably for sale in a tourist village
(ATTK Catalog Number 2003.15.73).
An early 20th century palmetto basket (left) is compared
to a contemporary basket by Seminole artist Pedro Zepeda
(ATTK Catalog Numbers 1996.39.12; 2008.53.1).
thickness and bound together with colored thread or string.
Some coiled baskets have cardboard or palmetto fiber bases,
while others are created from a tight coil. The baskets may be
open or may have lids, and some lids are decorated with minia-
ture patchwork dolls.
Today the most popular form of basket is the coiled sweetgrass
basket. Sweetgrass is a versatile material that offers basket
makers a wide range of creative choices as baskets can be made
in all sizes and in a variety of shapes and styles. Exterior deco-
ration can be added in the form of colored thread, beading and
patchwork dolls on the lids. This style has become recognizably
“Seminole.” Older styles of basket making using palmetto and
cane are not widely practiced today; however some basket mak-
ers, like Pedro Zepeda, are making older styles of baskets using
palmetto in order to revive the knowledge and tradition of all
kinds of Seminole basket making.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki is a museum of Seminole culture and history, located
on the Big Cypress Indian Reservation in Hendry County, Florida. The
museum is owned and operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida and was
opened in 1997.
. The original article has been edited.
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