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Exploring the creative and practical adaptations of basketry at Whatcom Museum

Shan Goshorn’s “They Were Called Kings” baskets, from 2013, are made of watercolor paper, archival inks and acrylic paint. They are part of “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America” at the Whatcom Museum Feb. 3 to May 6.
Shan Goshorn’s “They Were Called Kings” baskets, from 2013, are made of watercolor paper, archival inks and acrylic paint. They are part of “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America” at the Whatcom Museum Feb. 3 to May 6. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The Whatcom Museum is featuring not one, but three stunning basketry exhibitions at its two buildings. The Lightcatcher building will showcase “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America,” a traveling exhibition organized by the National Basketry Organization and the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology. This is the only West Coast venue of the exhibition. The museum will also showcase two concurrent basketry exhibitions at Old City Hall, Hidden in the Bundle: A Look Inside the Whatcom Museum’s Basketry Collection,” and a juried exhibition, “Gathered Together: A Show of Work Celebrating Members of the Northwest Basket Weavers Guild.” All three exhibitions will be showing from Feb. 3 to May 6.

In “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America,” 93 objects provide an historical overview of American basketry from its origins in Native American, immigrant and slave communities to its presence within the contemporary fine art world. Historical baskets were rooted in local landscapes and shaped by cultural traditions. The rise of the industrial revolution and mass production at the end of the 19th century led basket makers to create works for new audiences and markets, including tourists, collectors and fine art museums.

Today the story continues. Some contemporary artists seek to maintain and revive traditions practiced for centuries. Others combine age-old techniques with nontraditional materials to generate cultural commentary. Still others challenge viewers’ expectations by experimenting with form, materials and scale.

According to co-curators Jo Stealey and Kristin Schwain, “Baskets convey meaning through the artists’ selection of materials; the techniques they use; and the colors, designs, patterns, and textures they employ. This exhibition will feel both familiar and alien to visitors. Some objects are very utilitarian while others defy every idea you might have about what a basket could be.”

“Hidden in the Bundle” features a selection of baskets from the Whatcom Museum’s extensive Native American and First Nations collection. Representing different eras and cultures, the baskets showcase some unique, innovative and even playful elements of design or decoration. The viewer can explore these creative and practical adaptations while pondering the role of individual expression in the world of basket-making.

“Gathered Together” presents a selection of artistic basketry by members of the Northwest Basket Weavers Guild in an exhibition juried by Lisa Telford and Katherine Lewis, artists featured in “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented.” The weavers guild began 35 years ago and members weave both traditional and contemporary baskets. Several members are nationally known teachers and artists who have baskets featured in “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America.”

For more information about these exhibitions visit whatcommuseum.org/exhibitions.

Also showing at the Lightcatcher: While visiting the museum’s basketry exhibitions, patrons can also see “Jeweled Objects of Desire: From Ordinary to Extraordinary” at the Lightcatcher building. This exhibition features rarely seen items from the vaults of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Each piece in this exhibit demonstrates the skill and ingenuity of various artists in transforming simple materials into striking treasures. Showing Feb. 3 to May 6.

Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at cmclaassen@cob.org.

Whatcom Museum

The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.

The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

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