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Arizona State Museum’s woven wonders debut in new exhibit, Basketry Treasured

(University of Arizona/Tucson) Over the past decade, we’ve been informing the world that Arizona State Museum holds the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Southwest American Indian pottery. Some 20,000 whole vessels were collectively named an American Treasure in the year 2000.

An assortment of historic American Indian baskets (1890s-1950s) from Arizona State Museum’s permanent collections, photo by Jannelle Weakly.

On April 28, ASM will debut a new superlative with a sampling of the world’s largest collection of Southwest American Indian basketry and other woven wonders of American heritage. An exhibit of 500 pieces will represent the depth and breadth of the larger collection (some 25,000+ pieces) and provide an introduction to this peerless assemblage, designated an American Treasure in 2011.

Basketry Treasured runs April 28, 2012 – June 1, 2013.

Presented in honor of the state’s centennial, Basketry Treasured celebrates the ancient and abiding Arizona tradition of Native basketry. Examples of 2000-year-old sandals, a rare coiled bifurcated burden basket, an Ancestral Pueblo twilled basket mirroring today’s Hopi ring baskets, and other examples of early basketry and cordage products, will demonstrate basketry’s the deep roots in our region. O’odham, Apache, and Hopi voices will enrich the exhibit’s discussions of materials, technologies, traditions, and the many functions basketry has served and continues to serve in Native communities.

Other stories tell of some of the early 20th century Arizonans whose personal collections became the foundation of the museum’s. They include—appropriately for the centennial—Arizona’s first governor George W.P. Hunt, who donated more than 80 Western Apache and Pima baskets in 1917; Perry Merrell Williams, an early resident of Maricopa, who first loaned his collection of more than 300 Pima baskets in 1917; and Nelle Dermont of Williams, whose remarkable “Indian room” will be replicated, in part, within the exhibit using some of the hundreds of items and baskets received from her in 1919.

Basketry Treasured is also presented in the hope of inspiring friends to help with a challenge grant. With the award of $400,000 from the federal preservation initiative, Save America’s Treasures, ASM is in the midst of meeting the match in order to begin construction on a climate-controlled storeroom and interpretive space for the woven wonders. Sprinkled throughout the exhibit’s content are details about the risks this collection has faced and will continue to face until a new home is constructed. An upgraded “visible vault” for this collection will mitigate threats from light, temperature, humidity, insects, and abrasion. Not only will the upgrades provide the vital atmospheric controls, they will create a living exhibit and a dynamic educational venue through which the museum can share this incomparable collection with the public as never before.

Read more about ASM’s woven wonders of American heritage, the Save America’s Treasures grant, and how you can help at

Learn more about the extent and importance of the collection and see more examples at
This exhibit is made possible by grants from the Southwestern Foundation for Education and Historical Preservation, the Arizona Humanities Council, and by private donations.

Arizona State Museum is located just inside the University of Arizona’s Main Gate at Park Ave. and University Blvd. in Tucson. 1013 E. University Boulevard.

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