First Nations Baskets at the Langley Centennial Museum
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Glossary of Terms
(used in Langley Centennial Museum basketry analysis)

By Irene Bjerky

"Without imbrication, we would just have well-made baskets; fine of shape, but without colour or signature"

Special Note for Researchers:

This Glossary of Terms was written specifically for the Langley Centennial Museum's Pearson Collection, but can be used as a layman's reference for most N'laka'pamux (Thompson, Fraser Canyon) baskets, or for many coiled cedar-root baskets, imbricated or not. Please use it for the information, not for proven scientific absolutes. For extremely technical information, I would refer you to Dr. Andrea Laforet of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the greatest basketry researcher I know; and for further knowledge, especially on design and shapes, to consult James Teit's Coiled Basketry in British Columbia and Surrounding Region, 1924, by Haeberlin, Teit, and Roberts, under direction of Franz Boas, Bureau of American Ethnology, Washington, DC. Information on basketry materials can also be found in two articles by Faith Whiting and Karen Petkau, for Dr. Nancy Turner, UVic. See Note 1 (below) and Bibliography.

The Pearson Collection does not exhibit much in the way of wear, so it is assumed and noted that most of it was either lightly used, or just presented for display.

Basket Shapes:
Basket shape does not refer to condition; it specifies the actual shape, and hints at the use, of a basket. Although there is a huge diversity of basket shapes, they generally fall into a certain number of categories: berry, box, bowl, burden, cradle, creel, market, nut, shopping, storage, tray, trivet, etc.
Basket Starts:
Basket starts are what you see when someone is just beginning a basket. Sometimes, because of the time element, they only get a round or two of stitches done, and it is called a basket start. One will see it as a tiny knotted centre, then some very tight stitches, with a whole bunch of the bundled strips coming out. The novice maker needs to be encouraged to continue their basket.
Berry Basket:
Should have a tumpline or somewhere to attach one, though sometimes rope or twine was used to encompass the basket without putting stress on the weave. Somewhat interchangeable with a burden basket. It is very easy to determine if a burden basket has been used for berry picking, as it will be stained with berry juice, and is usually blue or black all along the lower sides, and especially on the bottom.
Bear Grass, or Reed Canary Grass:
I am not clear on the proper name for the grass used in imbrication. These two names were extracted from two distinct documents. "Bear grass" is a name used in a document by Sharon Fortney, while "Reed canary grass" is used by Turner, Whiting and Petkau (See Note 1 below). It should be noted that this may not be the exact grass-type used in all N'laka'pamux basketry. Regardless, the grass is harvested green, then split and hung to dry in strips where it bleaches white in the sun. When dry, it is usually one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch wide, and makes for a strong and durable imbricating material.
A bowl is self explanatory; bowls are usually round, and either rounded on the bottom, or possessing a small foot that does not modify the bowl shape. They generally do not have a lid, though some can. There is also a heart-shaped bowl in the collection.
A box is one of Teit's terms for basketry shape; it can be square or rectangular; generally longer and wider than it is deep.
Burden Basket:
Should have a tumpline or somewhere to attach one, though sometimes rope or twine was used to encompass the basket without putting stress on the weave. Somewhat interchangeable with a berry basket. However, a burden basket may not have been used to transport berries, so it might not be stained with berry juice. If it looks used, it may have been used to transport roots, herbs, plants, or clothing and/or camp gear.
Cedar Roots:
The choicest cedar roots are ones found growing out of red cedar trees, right through the soft banks at the edges of mountain creeks. These roots have an easy pathway to the water, so they grow fast and straight through soft and sandy soil; not gnarled and knotty like the ones which must force their way through mountain and rock to find water. Choice roots can be of a thickness of anywhere from the width of an adult finger, to an inch or two thick. Anything larger will likely be too thick and hard to split. See below for details on splitting cedar roots. Basketmakers like to work with long roots of sometimes 5 or 6 feet, but this is not imperative. Novice weavers often are given the short root splits to work with.
Cedar Slats:
Cedar slats are flat, wide strips of cedar or cedar root, anywhere from a half to one inch in width, and generally as long as the basket needs to be. Cedar slats are not generally used (or seen) in N'laka'pamux basketry, except for cradles and some large baskets that require sturdiness. Using slats is considered somewhat of a shortcut, because it saves time that would be spent on bundled coils. The N'laka'pamux weavers took great pride in the smallness and evenness of their coils, which is why it is seldom seen in their baskets. The use of slats is most often seen in places downriver of N'laka'pamux territory.
Cedar, Split:
Cedar roots are collected and generally dried for up to six months or a year. They then must be soaked in cold water (traditionally in a cold creek) to make them pliable again before splitting. After soaking for a day or two, root bark is peeled or scraped off with a small knife. Then, sometimes using a larger knife, an X is cut into the top of the bigger end of the root to begin splitting. The knife is used for the beginning, and then only used after for parts that are difficult to split. The root is split lengthwise all the way down, and then each half is split again into two more halves, or root quarters. After this, a skilled basketmaker can keep splitting the root into smaller slices, using the natural growth rings to split them. When long roots are being worked on, it is common to see the weaver holding one end in her mouth while the other is being worked and pulled away with her hands. The flat slim strips are used for coiling, while the thicker, more squared strips are used for bundles.
Chokecherry or Bitter Cherry Bark:
The inner bark of the chokecherry is used for imbrication. It is always a rich, deep red colour, though sometimes over the years it darkens to a reddish-brown or fades to a pale red when on baskets. The black chokecherry bark that is seen on basketry has been treated to give it that colour. We have learned that there are several ways of blackening this bark. Some weavers bury the bark in the ground for an unspecified amount of time, which turns it black. Informants have also stated that sometimes it is buried in or with a specific (but also unidentified ) type of black mud which affects the colour. A third way, which is most likely a shortcut developed after First Contact, is to put the bark in a tin coffee can full of water, sometimes adding nails or horseshoes; and letting it soak for, again, an unspecified amount of time. This process also blackens the bark.

The chokecherry bark is harvested off of a branch, usually about one finger thick by peeling off the thin outer bark, then cutting a continuous diagonal line which spirals slowly down the inner bark that surrounds the branch. Once the spiral line is cut, the inner bark peels away in one long, thin strip. It is then dried, and wrapped around a slat or wooden card, like a flat spool, for use in imbrication. We have also seen the bark just wrapped around itself, as one would begin a ball of yarn.
Between the 1880s and the 1950s, baskets became more than the utilitarian objects they had formerly been. They became collectibles, worth more than the trading commodity they had been. This is not to imply that designs and individual signatures were not important before this, but it is likely that many basketmakers polished up their family designs or created more. This created a new genre of baskets made for the commercial market, separate from baskets made for family use or practical purposes. However, the actual basket-makers still did not receive much for all of their long hours and hard work; many ended up trading their baskets for clothing. Untold numbers of Americans came across the border with used clothing, and took home the exquisite and unique baskets that are the legacy of the Fraser Canyon basket-makers. This is why there are so many out there in museums and private collections.
There are no cradles in the Pearson Collection, but they should be defined in this glossary, since they are mentioned in this reference document. As well, these might be added to the joint display at a later time. The cradles referred to are sometimes called cradleboards, although they are not mounted on boards of any kind. They are usually made with cedar slats as the base and sides, and coiled with cedar strips around the slats, with imbrication.

The cradles are oblong in shape, wider at the head than the foot, and often made using slats that are one long strip around the whole unit. The number of slats used depends on the width of the slats and how deep the cradle is made. Usually strips of hide are used to hold the child in, and these are looped through the rim of the cradle. The cradle basket is then lined with padding and soft blankets. There is usually a tumpline attached to the head of the cradle so that the mother can carry the cradle around her shoulders or forehead; or for hanging the cradle from a tree branch.

One informant, Mr. Lawrence Hope, owns his cradle, and remembers hanging in it from a tree branch, swaying in the Fraser Canyon breeze while his mother was drying salmon. This cradle was made by his grandmother, Rosie Charlie. Rosie's mother Susan Paul also was the maker of a basket in the Historic Yale Museum, given to Lawrence's mother Lena, the daughter of Rosie Charlie.
Coiled Bundled:
When cedar roots are split, there are always some small pieces left behind, which are very important to the art of basketry. These small splits are often as small in width as to be near square, but they are generally still long and flat. In any case, they are used as fill for the basket coilings. These are inserted into the coil whenever it becomes thinner. The weaver has to judge how thick she wants her coil to be, and then keep it at that thickness. This takes skill and judgment learned from practice, just as in any craft.
The coils are the most important part of the basket; it separates the novice from the artist. Coils must be even, whether they be large or small. The small, fine stitches are what Spuzzum is known for, and undoubtedly Yale, North Bend and Boston Bar were in a close second to that honour.
Creel, Fishing:
One can tell a Creel from the shape. It has a bulbous bottom, and a flat lid with a square hole in it for the rod. It also has a tumpline. (See 'tumplines' below). There is an abundance of fishing creels in BC basketry, and I have seen at least one of these in Teit's book on the Thompson people; others in family collections. One family creel I photographed in Kamloops even had carved wooden fids (net needles) and wooden cards that I have been told are for making nets to the right size.
The foot on a basket refers to a series of coils forming a base around the bottom of the basket. A foot can be made of usually one, two, or three coils, and may or may not be imbricated. A foot on a basket is generally particular to N'laka'pamux weavers of the Fraser Canyon, though not exclusively so.
Unless otherwise stated, most of the hide observed in the baskets of the Langley Centennial Museum Pearson Collection is assumed to be deer hide.
Imbricated, imbrication:
Imbrication is the woven-in decoration, which gives us the ever-so-important patterns that have sparked this project, and generally involves the addition (weaving in) of an extra decorative material of a specific organic origin; usually either dried grass, or the dried inner bark of the chokecherry, sometimes natural red, sometimes blackened by one of several processes. Imbrication is what drives this project, as without it, we would just have well-made baskets; fine of shape, but without colour or signature.
Reminiscent or similar to the shape of a ceramic or glass jar, usually of cylindrical shape.
Market Basket:
Sometimes referred to as a shopping basket, this is generally an oblong, rectangular basket that resembles a large ladies purse. This was usually used to collect any fresh staples needed by the day, and could hold a few apples, potatoes, tomatoes, or such items as small cheeses, herbs or spices; and would happily fit a loaf of bread at the top if needed. This brings back the days when ladies would do a daily shopping for a few items.
Nut Shape:
Teit used this term to define a storage basket that was generally rounded in circumference, with a narrower bottom and top, bulging out at the sides, and often with a lid. This term can be applied to nearly any rounded basket that comes closer near the top. Quite often the lid was fitted with an inside lip that allowed tight closure at the top of the basket, and usually the design was transferred to the lid. Many lids also were made with a small knob or handle at the top, usually of coiled bundled cedar root.
Part of the Pearson Collection in Yale is a pair of fully imbricated rattles; likely for ceremonial use. These rattles contain pebbles or perhaps hard grains or legumes like dried peas, and have corks plugging the ends to enclose them.
Shape versus Condition:
Basket shape is one of the greater defining factors of basketry analysis. One must recognize the physical shape for its use or intended use, and then also consider the physical condition of the basket to decide whether it has been used for its intended purpose, or has been preserved for display. Most of the baskets in the Pearson Collection have never been used for anything other than the storage of soft, clean items such as wool, knitting, blankets, sewing, or clothing; although the one largest basket is remembered as being her playpen when the donor was a child. One can define if a basket has been used by its condition, using telltale signs such as berry stains, or perhaps stains of a fishing creel or pipe pouch. None of the Pearson baskets have stains.
Shopping Basket:
Sometimes referred to as a market basket, this is generally an oblong, rectangular basket that resembles a large ladies purse; this was usually used to collect any fresh staples needed by the day, and could hold a few apples, potatoes, tomatoes, or such items as small cheeses, herbs or spices; and would happily fit a loaf of bread at the top if needed. This brings back the days when ladies would do a daily shopping for a few items.
Storage is a broad term used for many open or closed (lidded) baskets. Any basket that was not used as a serving tray or dish, trivet, creel, cup, or berry or burden basket, can be called a storage basket. Storage baskets could hold anything from grain, clothing, dried food, sewing or basketry materials, tools or utensils, etc.
James Alexander Teit (1864-1922) was an anthropologist, ethnologist and naturalist employed by the American Museum of Natural History for the Jesup Expeditions under Franz Boas. He specialized in studying the culture of the Interior Salish peoples, most particularly the N'laka'pamux, or Thompson River peoples. Teit did extensive research on aboriginal basketry. His research was the basis of Coiled Basketry of British Columbia and Surrounding Region, 1928, by Teit, H. K. Haeberlin, and Helen H. Roberts, edited by Boas; Smithsonian Institute. Haeberlin died in 1918, and when Teit passed away in 1922, the book was finished by Helen Roberts.
Refers to a basket in the shape of a serving tray.
A sling formed by a strap slung over the forehead or chest and used for carrying or helping to support a pack or in hauling loads. (Merriam-Webster)
Note 1:
Two papers were produced in 2001-2002 and published in Midden (Vol. 34, No. 4 - 2003). Faith Whiting's paper was entitled What a Basket Holds and Karen Petkau's paper was called Baskets: Carrying a Culture. Both papers were under the supervision of Dr. Nancy Turner, of the University of Victoria. The project, in collaboration with the White Rock Museum & Archives, was funded by the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA).