How to Identify Native American Baskets

by Megan Shoop

Native American art attracts many devotees because of its intricacy, symbolism and long history. Baskets are among the most popular art items as they are small, beautiful and useful. Native American art’s popularity has inspired many non-Native artists to create pieces with Native designs, including the popular Native baskets. Though these pieces are beautiful, as well, they are undesirable for collectors of authentic Native art. There are several things that may help a collector tell a Native American piece from Native American inspired art.

Examine the weaving technique. Tight, close together weaving using several different materials is usually genuine, unless it looks perfectly uniform. Very uniform weaving indicates machine-made materials. Authentic art is always handmade.

Check the materials on handmade items. Pine needle bundles, gray willow branches, red cedar fibers, green-yellow sweet grass and sinew cord are common materials in authentic, undyed items. These items all produce thick, bold weaving patterns. Very thin fibers in coiled patterns indicate raffia or rice straw see in inauthentic items.

Examine the colors. Stamped patterns that show up on the outside of the basket only, in rusty reds and blacks, indicate authentic art. On brightly colored baskets, look at the weave: thin fibers are not authentic, while thicker very smooth splints indicate an authentic piece.

Inspect the finish on the rim. The fibers should be wrapped on a diagonal either parallel to each other or in tiny triangles. Rims finished with a vertically parallel weave are not authentic pieces. Delicate woven handles are not authentic, while decorative curls and twists at the rim are.

Check the prices. Usually, authentic Native baskets are more expensive than Native-inspired pieces. This is not always the case, so inspect the weave on expensive baskets before you purchase them.

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