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Basket Mania: Collecting Native American Basketry in the Late Victorian Era

Feather Basket, ca. 1880
California, Pomo
Willow, sedge, woodpecker feathers, clamshell, abalone shell
Gift of Mrs. Henry Lang in memory of her mother, Mrs. Jasper R. Rand
1931.184

Start Date: 
May 7, 2015
End Date: 
December 31, 2016

ONGOING VIEW

 

This recent installation in MAM’s Rand Gallery of Native American art features 69 baskets collected during the late Victorian era when a craze for Native basketry swept the United States. Basket mania, the name given to this fad, was at its height from 1890 to 1930 and ended with the Great Depression. During this period, collectors, museum curators, and dealers competed to acquire the most highly prized baskets, those made by California Indians. Victorian homes were decorated with Native baskets and often featured special “Indian rooms” to showcase baskets and curios often acquired on trips to the West.

 

This intense collecting frenzy can be attributed to the rise in numbers of tourists traveling by train to the West. On these trips, many Easterners first encountered the majestic Western scenery and the beauty of Native art, especially baskets. Basketry fit the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, which arose in objection to the 19th century Industrial Revolution. Proponents of the movement favored hand-crafted objects made under premodern conditions. An art market for baskets emerged that changed the previously impoverished lives of countless California basket weavers, which encouraged them to create innovative art baskets. With their fine baskets in great demand, the weavers were able to support their families.

 

The epicenter for basket collecting was Pasadena, California, where wealthy East Coast tourists wintered in fashionable hotels. Among the winter residents who caught basket fever was Annie Valentine Rand, mother of MAM’s cofounder Florence Rand Lang. In Pasadena, she purchased some of her large collection of baskets from Grace Nicholson, a preeminent Native American art dealer who was largely responsible for creating an art market for Native basketry. When Annie Valentine Rand died in 1907, her daughter funded the building of MAM including a display of her mother’s exquisite baskets. With guidance from Grace Nicholson, she continued to assemble an exceptional collection of Native American art, which she donated to the Museum.

 

Ranging in size from an extremely large Apache Indian storage jar to a Pomo Indian basket as small as a tiny seed, the baskets on view in this installation were collected during the years when basket mania seized the nation. Almost all were gifts from Florence Rand Lang. This installation is the second phase of what will be a major reinstallation of the existing Rand Gallery; the first features Pueblo Indian Pottery, which is also on view.

 

Basket Mania installation funded by Audrey and Norbert Gaelen. Additional generous support provided by Catherine and Nicholas Carlozzi, Bob and Bobbie Constable, Holly English and Fred Smagorinsky, Tracy Higgins and James Leitner, Gretchen and Sanford Prater, Carole Shaffer-Koros and Robert Koros, Adrian A. Shelby and Edward Bindel, and Margo and Frank Walter.

 

All Museum programs are made possible, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Carol and Terry Wall/The Vance Wall Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, and Museum members.