Basket making in the Americas and the value of work

Dr Penny Dransart (University of Wales, Lampeter)                     

Basket making in the Americas and the value of work

It has often been stated that artefacts made of perishable materials such as basketry have been less intensively studied by specialists of material culture than more durable artefacts of ceramic and stone. Such a view overlooks the research interests of some of the major figures of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropology such as Otis Tufton Mason and Franz Boas. Their disagreement concerning whether museum artefacts should be classified and displayed on technological grounds or should be exhibited in the context of the culture group to which they belonged  was informed on both sides by a thorough knowledge of how baskets were made. This paper will examine the work of these major figures in the history of anthropology in the light of their interests in what Mason called ‘a textile art without machinery’. Particular emphasis will be given to culturally construed notions of work in relation to the so-called work basket.

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