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Condition Reporting


Table filled with a variety of weaved baskets of different shapes and sizes.
The study collection baskets show the variety of damage frequently seen. Rim damage is very common, and past attempt at repairs are common as well.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection

Spruce root basket.
The place on a spruce root basket that turns a corner is vulnerable to splitting, which can impact the structural stability of the entire basket. Once a tear happens, the evenly distributed stresses throughout the basket are out of balance. Tears often become bigger with handling. On this basket, the flat section of the lid has become completely detached from the side of the lid, and the rim of the basket is completely detached as well. There is a large vertical tear up the side of the basket, too.

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-I-A-578

2 weaved baskets: 1 is vibrantly dyed purple & red, the other has dull faded coloring.
Dyed elements on baskets are notorious for fading, especially if they were dyed with natural dyes. This spruce root basketry item features one half that nests completely inside its lid. The outer section has severely faded, and the inside remains vivid. You can see the purple at the bottom of the basket on the left is slightly faded from exposure. The bottom edge of the lid also has minor damage.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-538

Close-up of broken (chewed) areas of a woven basket.
While it is uncommon, pest damage is sometimes seen on plant materials that compose basketry. Here we see spruce root basketry with grass decoration that has been chewed. In the upper right of the image, there is a crusty accretion on the surface. Could there have been tasty debris that got stuck to the outside of this basket and attracted the pest?

Photo credit: Sheldon Jackson Museum collection SJ-I-A-510

Close-up of dyed colors on weaved basket that remains among fading of the rest of the design.
Many spruce root baskets had bands of dyed weft. It is very common for the color to be severely faded on the weft, significantly altering the visual impact of the design. Often, the dyed weft cannot even be seen on the exterior of the basket anymore, and can only be hinted at on the interior. A label of some kind had once covered a rectangular section inside this basket, protecting it from light and preserving the color.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-368

View of the underside of a woven basket reveals a cardboard base.
Spruce root baskets sometimes have a circle of cardboard stitched to the interior or exterior base. This is part of the basket and should not be removed. Sometimes there is important information written on the cardboard. Here, “Klukwan 1916” is faintly written in pencil. If you are also writing the description, this information belongs there. However, if you are only writing the condition information, go ahead and include that valuable tidbit in the condition report too, just in case it does not appear elsewhere in the record.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1577

Close-up of repair stitching on woven basket.
Sometimes there are old repairs that happened during cultural use, such as this repair on the rim of a clan hat. The raised areas of the skip stitch on this spruce root hat also show abrasion of the paint. A cultural repair like this suggests a long history of cultural use.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-830

A woven basket sits lopsided.
This grass basket has a distorted base that prevents it from sitting flat.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-F-110

Close-up of a broken handle on a woven basket.
This plaited spruce root basket has a broken handle. Handles of baskets are often broken or missing, and it is good to look for evidence there had once been handles.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-B-1533

View of the interior of a shallow oblong woven basket.
The blue and red dyes on the interior of this basket are very faded.

Photo credit: Scott Carrlee

Interior view of a shallow, oblong woven basket.
The blue and red dyes on the underside of the same basket are still vivid. Both handles are present on this basket, and the condition report should note they are stable. Handles are a frequently damaged and vulnerable part of many baskets.

Photo credit: Scott Carrlee

Birch basket with cracks.
Minor distortion, delaminating, and small cracks are common in birch bark items. Larger cracks ought to be noted, especially if they go all the way through the material. Since the precision of where a crack begins and ends is difficult to measure, estimating to the quarter-inch gives someone in the future a sense of magnitude to gauge if a crack becomes significantly bigger.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-C-26

Close-up of basket stitching that is breaking.
The edges of birch bark baskets are often wrapped in split root, and this can become quite brittle and break easily. Estimate how many stitches are missing, and look carefully nearby for C-shaped detached pieces.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-C-22

A rounded grass basket with lid. Basket slumps to one side.
This coiled Yup’ik grass basket is slumped. The dyed elements are also severely faded. This style of basket often suffers from a broken knob at the top. The knob is meant to be decorative but if it is used to try to open the basket it can be easily damaged. Lids often fit snugly, but a damaged basket might have a lid that no longer fits properly or falls inside the basket.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 91-31-6

Coiled grass basket with broken coil at top.
The uppermost coil forming the rim of this basket is damaged, exposing the foundation grass within. The dyes are also severely faded.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection 94-17-1

Close-up of woven basket stitching.
This basket is made of spruce root with wefts wrapped in grass. This decorative technique is often called “false embroidery” and the dye of the grass is often very faded. In this case, the darker grass false embroidery suffers significant damage. It might be because of inherent vice in the dye that may have chemically weakened the plant fiber. Another possibility is that the dark dye was attractive to insects who preferentially ate this material.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-A-6852

Close-up of grass basket with yarn woven in as decoration.
Unangan (Aleut) grass baskets often have decorative wool yarn or cotton thread. Insect damage sometimes causes loss of the wool yarn.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-F-125

Folded woven mat with comparison of faded dye on the left vs. vibrant dye on the right.
The decorative elements of this grass wallet show moderate to severe fading on the side that experienced more light exposure. The grass is still very pliable on this wallet. For something that was expected to flex during its useful life, it is good to indicate whether it has become stiff/brittle or remains flexible.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-F-148

Grass basket bending inward at many places.
This grass basket is severely distorted. This degree of damage may be the result of getting wet. The decorative floral elements on the lid is also very faded. The knob has been damaged in the past, and was sewn on crudely with thread. It is also possible that the knob is not original to the basket, but was added as a repair from a different basket. A clue is the degree of fading on the knob embroidery versus the lid. How to know if a color choice is intentionally muted versus faded from damage? Often if there is low contrast between the decorative element and the basket, that is a clue.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection II-F-306

Close-up of bend creases on a woven basket.
Matching inverted “Y” shapes on the sides of a basket indicate it was folded for storage. In the case of this spruce root basket, that might be a clue that is was culturally used and not originally made for the tourist market.

Photo credit: Alaska State Museum collection