Spruce root, river cane, cedar bark, white grass and pine needles are the tools of the trade for Native American weavers. They originally used these natural materials to create baskets to hold food, haul goods, carry babies and provide shade from the sun. The tightly woven textiles are also valued as skillful works of art, and one of the world's esteemed basket collections is now on display at the Natural History Museum.

Catherine Marshall Gardiner from Laurel, Miss., was taken by the fine workmanship of antique baskets and began collecting baskets in 1900. Her collection includes a wide assortment from tall painted hats circa 1910 woven by the Haida tribe from Queen Charlotte's Islands, British Columbia, to an 1880 bowl-shaped basket featuring intricate geometric designs by the Hupas of California. By 1923, when she donated her collection of almost 500 baskets to the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, she had amassed one of the most diverse collections of North American basketry in the southeastern United States. Her baskets range from the size of an acorn to large containers for holding blankets or bags for carrying corn. Rattles, dolls, dowry baskets decorated with feathers and shells and baskets to cradle sleeping babies are all represented.

The Lauren Rogers Museum continued to add to the collection, and Louisiana is represented in its holdings. A square covered basket made of dyed river cane woven by Ada Thomas, a member of the Chitimacha tribe from Charenton, La., is on display, as well as a large lidded pine needle and raffia basket typical of the Coushatta tribe from Elton.


By Native Hands: Native American Baskets from the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is on display at the Natural History Museum & Planetarium (433 Jefferson St.) through Aug. 14. For more info, call 291-5544.

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