Maidu Museum features woven basket collection

Mountain Maidu basket exhibit tells story of four generations of women
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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When Lilly Baker passed away in 2006, she left behind a collection of woven baskets passed down through the generations. The baskets, made with care by four generations of Mountain Maidu women, tell the stories, thoughts and feelings experienced by these women. They practiced their craft as a spiritual endeavor, expressing themselves through their art. “(The baskets) document this art and family relationships that would be lost otherwise,” said April Farnham, a local historian. Farnham formerly worked as collections curator for the Maidu Museum and Historic Site in Roseville, and played an instrumental role in assembling the exhibit, “Our Precious Legacy: Mountain Maidu Baskets from the Meadows-Baker Families,” currently at the museum. The display includes baskets woven by eight women from the late-1800s to mid-1900s. “The exhibit is significant in how it reflects that continuance of traditions and craftsmanship from generation to generation,” Farnham said. “You can actually see a tangible link between family members and the passing of influences and experiences of their lives.” Last month, the museum hosted a grand opening of the exhibit, featuring a video of Lilly Baker and the Maidu legacy, an opening blessing by Maidu Heritage Specialist Rick Adams, and a talk on the challenges and pleasures of basketweaving by Kathy Wallace, a Yurok-Karuk-Mohawk and member of the Hoopa Valley tribe. Before being displaced during the California Gold Rush, Mountain Maidu lived in three geographical areas, including Big Meadows, Taylorsville in Indian Valley and Genesee Valley. The lands now comprise parts of Plumas and Lassen counties. The women used baskets as tools, containers and utensils for gathering, preparing, cooking and storing food. They also gave baskets as gifts during celebrations or religious ceremonies. Weaving baskets was a time-consuming process for Maidu women, who typically used parts of redbuds, willow and maple trees in their creations. “This exhibit is important because it represents a documented lineage of weavers, where mothers passed down their knowledge to their daughters over many generations,” said museum Supervisor Kris Stevens. “(And) it’s a reflection of the thousands of years that Native California people have been living in partnership with the land.” Jennie Meadows, born in 1850, made coiled baskets and passed down the tradition — it eventually reached her great-granddaughter Lilly Baker, who was born in 1911 and is now considered one of the last traditional Maidu basketweavers. Baker left her baskets to a dear friend, named Pat Lindgren Kurtz. Baker lived with the Kurtz family for 27 years and the two women cultivated a friendship for more than 50 years. Kurtz was an artist and teacher who lived in the Mountain Maidu country of Indian Valley in Plumas County. A few years ago, the Maidu Museum received a portrait painting of Baker donated by a man in Nevada. “(Lilly’s) work is quite well-known and she was active in the California Basket Weavers Association,” Farnham said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have this exhibit as a tribute to her?’” So they established a small exhibit, word of which made its way to Kurtz who called the museum and explained how she had been Baker’s friend and had in her possession a collection of baskets she inherited. Over the next two years, Kurtz loaned several pieces to the museum. The Maidu Museum also received prints of photographs donated by the son of famed photographer Philip Hyde, who had documented the tradition of basket weaving and the women who made them. The museum continued to acquire bits and pieces of Kurtz’s collection over time and last year, staff members assembled the baskets to show the family lineage. In a catalog written for the exhibit, Kurtz describes the baskets woven by Mountain Maidu as considered to be some of the best of California and the North American continent. Farnham said the Roseville museum is extremely lucky to house this exhibit, because the collection contains items special enough to be found in the Field Museum in Chicago or the Smithsonian. “Baskets are a glimpse into the soul of the Maidu culture,” Stevens said. “Their deep knowledge of the plants and landscape is mirrored in their baskets, in the plant materials they gathered, prepared, sized and wove into objects of both beauty and function.” Sena Christian can be reached at ---------- What: “Our Precious Legacy: Mountain Maidu Baskets from the Meadows-Baker Families” exhibit When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday through May 2011. Where: Maidu Museum and Historic Site, 1970 Johnson Ranch Dr. in Roseville Cost: $4.50 for adult, $4 for children, $16 for a family of four. Free entrance during Second Saturday events. $2 per person from 2-4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday Info: Call 916-774-5934 or for more information