2007 Basketry Internship

http://www.museums.state.ak.us/documents/bulletin_docs/bulletin_27.pdf

Bulletin Vol 27 Fall 2007

The Alaska State Museum conservation lab hosted two interns for a basketry conservation project this summer.  Both interns were graduate conservation students finishing their second year of studies: Molly Gleeson from the UCLA/Getty Museum program, and Samantha (Sam) Springer from the University of Delaware/Winterthur Museum program.  These programs and the interns themselves provided the funding to come to Alaska.  The ASM provided the supplies and supervision.  In the first week, Molly and Sam brainstormed treatment solutions for the archaeological basketry fragments in the lab, and did a preliminary cleaning on a group of flattened spruce root work baskets that may become a study collection.  In the second week, curator Steve Henrikson assigned each intern two horrifically damaged baskets.  Molly worked on two Haida baskets collected by Lt. George Thornton Emmons in the late 1800’s.  The baskets had severe deformation, losses, tears, and old repairs of painted tape.  Sam’s Tlingit basketry projects also had intense tears, losses and deformation as well as old insect infestation and surface soiling.  The two Tlingit baskets still retain the inverted Y-shaped folds on the sides that indicate the baskets were folded for storage and thus not made for the tourist market.  Treatments included overall re-shaping in a humidity chamber, localized humidification with Gore-tex and blotter paper to align tears for repair with tiny splints of Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, and innovative loss compensation with cotton gauze and sculpted paper pulp bulked with adhesive.  The interns were also able to examine baskets in the collection with Steve Henrikson and Tlingit-Haida weaver Janice Criswell.  Janice and weaver Mary Lou King twice took the interns “rooting.” They dug spruce roots, processed them, and each wove a basket under the tutelage of Janice and Mary Lou.  Together the interns formed quite a dynamic duo, becoming fast friends and helping Ellen make improvements to the lab.  Molly’s boyfriend Germán visited from Chile and proposed marriage on a beautiful Eaglecrest hike.  Germán and Samantha’s husband Seth also became friends, hiking and seeking satellite TV soccer matches while their partners immersed themselves in basketry.  Samantha’s professor Bruno Pouliot from Delaware also visited the interns for several days, and accompanied them to Sitka to kick off the second part of their internship.  Their first day on the job, they appeared on the radio to promote that evening’s free public program at the Sheldon Jackson Museum, a Conservation Clinic to provide advice to locals about their artifacts.  The clinic included ASM Curator of Museum Services Scott Carrlee (also a conservator.)  More than fifty people came, most bringing artifacts for examination, making the event one of the most successful public programs at the SJM in recent years.  In addition to several basketry treatments, the interns were able to meet with retired curator Peter Corey, National Parks Service curator Sue Thorsen, and Tlingit weaver Teri Rofkar to study baskets.  They also gathered materials and wove baskets with Teri.  In an exciting development, the interns are working with Teri and Janice to co-author a paper for an important international museum conference.  The International Council for Museums Conservation Committee (ICOM-CC) holds a major conference every three years.  In 2008, the conference will take place in New Delhi, India with the theme “Diversity in Heritage Conservation: Tradition, Innovation and Participation.”  The basketry abstract was provisionally accepted in July.  Only 40% of the proposed abstracts were accepted, and final paper is due in November for final review.  If accepted, this will be one of the very few professional conservation papers that will include a first-person Native voice, instead of the Native perspective only interpreted through a conservator.  Internships such as this one provide up-and-coming conservation professionals an opportunity to work with Native artists and museum professionals in the environment where the artifacts were made, allowing for multiple perspectives and a deeper understanding of the conservator’s sensitive role in preservation.  These are lessons that can be carried on throughout their careers.  In return, interns take on difficult treatments and share the latest techniques and theories in conservation they have learned in school.  Today’s interns are tomorrow’s professionals, linking us to museums in the lower 48 and creating a network of colleagues.  The long-range plan for the ASM conservation program includes dividing the collection into materials groupings for systematic surveys.  Each survey will identify priorities for conservation treatment and provide ideal internships for future conservation students.  Next summer’s project targets the museum’s natural history collection.  Stay tuned…

Rim of spruce root basket 2006-18-1 BT by Samantha Springer

Rim of spruce root basket 2006-18-1 BT by Samantha Springer

 

 After treatment by Samantha Springer using Japanese tissue and paper pulp with wheat starch paste and watercolor.

After treatment by Samantha Springer using Japanese tissue and paper pulp with wheat starch paste and watercolor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Molly Gleeson inventing a new repair technique using cotton gauze, paper pulp, Japanese tissue, wheat starch paste and PVA emulsion adhesive.

Molly Gleeson inventing a new repair technique using cotton gauze, paper pulp, Japanese tissue, wheat starch paste and PVA emulsion adhesive.

After treatment of large loss near base of Haida basket II-B-493

After treatment of large loss near base of Haida basket II-B-493

 

Janice Criswell teaches Samantha Springer to weave spruce root in Mary Lou King's kitchen.

Janice Criswell teaches Samantha Springer to weave spruce root in Mary Lou King's kitchen.

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3 Responses to 2007 Basketry Internship

  1. Dear Ellen,
    I just found your weblog… What a wonderful program/internship. I am a designer, textile artist and craft producer (for Home and garden TV programs) and have recently become fascinated with Tlingit and Haida baskets. This spring I contacted Teri Rofkar in hopes of having her as a guest on the seasonal program I was working with. Sadly our budget and her schedule were not in harmony. I ended up teaching myself the technique for coiled pine needle baskets because I was working on a segment for our “evergreen” show at the time. Since then all I can think about are native baskets and have been hunting them out in antique stores ever since. I just returned from Prince Edward Island with a wonderful collection of new and antique baskets I found there.
    I visited the Mi’kamq reservation on Lennox Island and found one small sweet grass and ash basket made locally and another small quill basket from Manitoulin Island made by a member of the Besito family (Ojibwa/Cree). I also discovered what I think is a Haida or Tlingit piece at an antique store… I am sure the owner was not aware of its origin as it was priced so wonderfully low. As you can imagine I was thrilled to finally be able to explore the detail of one of these baskets close up. I am hoping to have someone take a look at the basket to see if I can find out more about its history and to see if my suspicion about its origin is in fact true. I also would like to learn more about conservation as it does have slight damage to attend to. For now I will just handle it with care…
    Anyhow, I have been thinking of traveling out (I live in Providence RI) for a seminar at some point with Teri but until then I would love to have someone look at a few photos of the basket to learn what I can about it. Could you recommend someone who would be willing look at it?
    Thank you for your time. Any advice would be greatly appreciated
    Best,
    Cynthia Treen

  2. ellencarrlee says:

    Hi Cynthia,
    If you can send images to Teri Rofkar, she’d probably be able to idenitfy at least the material and technique. You are welcome to send images to me at work ellen.carrlee@alaska.gov since I have worked with basketry quite a bit, and our curator, Steve Henrikson also knows baskets and is married to a Tlinigt-Haida weaver, Janice Criswell. I took a basketry weaving class from her myself. I can say more after I have seen an image, but the weft of a typical Tlingit or Haida spruce root basket is made of the outer curvature of the split root. So it is semi-circular in cross section, with the flat part facing the inside of the basket and the rounded part facing the outside. The direction of the twining will tell you if it was woven rightside up or upside down, which is a major clue about Tlingit versus Haida origin. Best wishes,
    ellen

  3. Hello Cynthia, if you are interested in NW Coast basketry, or maybe you dont know much about it, please check out my website. if you would like to email me i can guide you to some very interesting people and info from this area. The basketry heritage here is fabulous.

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