Women traditionally crafted basketry and textiles, typically in the winter while performing other gender specific duties such as preparing and preserving food, digging roots, making mats, dressing hides, and sewing clothing. These tasks gave women domestic authority and balanced male labor. Women also trained their daughters in these activities.
Women gained economic autonomy through the trade of basketry and other handicrafts. Women possessed their own property and kept the earnings from their craftsmanship. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Native women traded baskets with Euro-American fur traders, missionaries, early settlers, and government officials. Some of these collectibles ended up in museums like the Smithsonian and the Maryhill Museum of Art.
Both popular and scholarly fascination with Native American basketry increased at the turn of the 20th century and Chinook basket makers participated in a flourishing basketry trade. Ethnographers collected baskets that they sometimes displayed at world’s fairs. Popular collecting exploded in the Victorian era and during the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1920s, when Native handicrafts were prized for their so-called “primitive” qualities. Collectors prominently displayed baskets in their homes. Hotelier Lizzie Brown Kindred exhibited her Chinookan basketry collection at the Tokeland Hotel in on the Washington coast from 1885 until 1930.
While artists sold directly to collectors, the growing market for American Indian curios led to the proliferation of dealers, such as the Frohman Trading Company of Portland. In 1902, the company published a 27-page catalog of Northwest Coast baskets priced from $7 to $35. Tourism in the American West also created a thriving market for Native baskets, which were lightweight souvenirs . Unfortunately, basket makers did not sign their work, and while some artists were identified for their stitching or designs, few collectors recorded the names of the artists. As a result, it is difficult to attribute a particular artist’s work.
- Ackerman, Lillian A. A Necessary Balance: Gender and Power Among Indians of the Columbia Plateau. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
- Lewis, Meriwether and William Clark ed. By Gary Moulton. Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1803-1806. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003, Online at
- Scott, Leslie M. “Indian Women as Food Providers and Tribal Counselors.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 42, no. 3 (1941): 208-219.
- Schlick, Mary Dodds. Columbia River Basketry: Gift of the Ancestors, Gift of the Earth. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994.
- Jonaitis, Aldona. Art of the Northwest Coast. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.