This post is by Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, former Associate Curator for African Art and Dept. Head of the Arts of Africa, the Americas, Asia & the Pacific Islands. She recently took up a position as the Teel Curator of African and Oceanic Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Three women are intimately connected with this beautiful feathered basket. An unknown Pomo woman living in central California made the basket; an entrepreneurial art-dealer and hotel owner in Arizona sold it; and a dressmaker from Baltimore bought it as part of her extensive collection of Native American art.
The basket is so small that it is reminiscent of a thimble. Woven around a support of willow or hazel twigs, the artist wove tight coils of sedge or pine root and inserted oriole and mallard feathers to create a dazzling color play, with brown quail topknot feathers contributing to the shape. Pomo basket-weavers are renowned for their masterful work, and beginning in the 1890s, women began to make tiny baskets like this one as art objects to show off their skills. Professional basket buyers and individual connoisseurs collected their work and traded it far beyond the state. Moved from their land to reservations in the 19th century, basket-weaving provided Pomo women with much-needed income.
Anna Fullen, owner of the Suhuaro hotel in Chandler, Arizona, may have been one of these professional basket buyers. Fullen owned a small shop within the hotel and sold Native American objects during the 1920s to visitors and art enthusiasts. Florence Reese Winslow, born in Maryland in 1870, lived in Hayden, Arizona with her husband from 1924 to 1931. Living near the Tohono O’odham people, she amassed one of the most extensive collections of Tohono O’odham miniature baskets in the world. This Pomo miniature basket likely entered her collection through Fullen’s shop.
Arizona was not Winslow’s only adventure—she lived in Dresden, Germany from 1889 to 1891, and from 1898 to 1912, she was listed variously as an artist, ladies’ tailor and dressmaker in Baltimore. Winslow died in Baraboo, Wisconsin, where she had lived since her time in Arizona. Although she was not in contact with The Baltimore Museum of Art before her death, Winslow left 391 baskets, rugs, beadwork and pieces of jewelry to the Museum and its visitors. These include spectacular examples of Navajo rugs, Pomo baskets, Tohono O’odham baskets, and Aleutian art.
So small that it could fit on your thumb, this basket holds a connection between three savvy business women, whether artists or art lovers.
BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.