I used to tell people that we really didn’t sell many Native baskets, basically the few Navajo Ceremonial of Wedding baskets that someone would bring in or some older baskets that we got from collections.

The other day I was walking through the gallery and realized that we have a whole Basket Room and it has a lot of baskets in it! Funny how things sneak up on you like that! My sister says it’s because I am a hoarder!

Almost all the basket we have are from collections and they come from many different tribes. The sad thing is that basket making as an art is slowly coming to an end. Most tribes don’t make the great baskets they did years ago.

Did you know that this is one of the only art forms that can’t be produced by a machine? Even the simple baskets you get at flower shops are made by hand by someone somewhere!

Thirty-five years Betsy Barber, one of the early Burnham weavers that we started working with in the 1970’s, married a great guy from the Aneth area in Utah. I knew he came from a family that did basketmaking, and about 15 years ago, his brother walked in the door with a traditional Navajo Wedding Basket.

In the wedding ceremony, the basket is filled with corn meal from each side of the family, the medicine man mixed the meal with water, blesses it and all the attendees at the wedding and the bride and groom, eat from the mixture.

These baskets are used in almost all ceremonies by Navajo Medicine Men and when someone has a ceremony done for them, they must buy a basket to give the Medicine Man. The baskets are often sold afterwards. Many times, baskets are bought and sold dozens of times. But the fact that they are used is one of the reasons that Navajo Baskets are still made.


Joaquin Phillips

Anyway, Joaquin brought us several baskets and his work continued to get more and more refined. One day when he came in, I took him to the Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College where Jeannie Brako, the curator, was nice enough to let us go into the basement storage and look at a Navajo basket collection that had recently been donated.

The collection had been put together by a salesman who traveled on the reservation for years and bartered for baskets at the trading posts.

There are many unusual baskets in the collection, and it inspired Joaquin to try some new things. His baskets became more and more refined and his designs became more individual.

Joaquin brought in this beautiful contemporary basket made from the traditional three leaf Sumac. He doesn’t weave often, but when he does, it is special!

Baskets in Toh-Atin Gallery