Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum will be putting a new exhibit on display in October. "A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets" explores the revival of traditional basketry in America during the past 50 years through works by 63 contemporary basketmakers. Made between 1983 and 2011, the 105 baskets on display demonstrate the endurance of indigenous, African and European basket-weaving traditions in the United States as well as interpretations of the craft by individual makers. The exhibition will be on view from Oct. 4 through Dec. 8.
The exhibition celebrates the gift of 79 baskets to the museum by the noted collectors Martha G. Ware and Steven R. Cole, and the promised gift of 20 more. The gift more than doubles the museum's collection of contemporary baskets, making it one of the leading public collections of this craft. Nearly all of the works in the exhibition will be on public display for the first time. Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, organized the exhibition.
The basketmakers represented in the exhibition work almost exclusively with undyed native materials--grasses, trees, vines and bark--that they have gathered by hand. Many cite gathering and preparing materials as steps that are as important to their process as weaving and acts that connect their finished products to the surrounding environment.
The varieties of basket forms on display, from those made for harvest and market to sewing, laundry and fishing creels, reveal the importance of baskets in the everyday lives of generations of Americans before the market for handmade vessels declined. The featured baskets range from traditional styles to designs reflecting the distinct interpretations of their makers.