Athabascan Birch Bark Folded Basket Antique Native Alaskan Art
This beautiful basket was made by the Athabascan people of Alaska in the late 19th/early 20th century. The outer bark was peeled from the birch tree, then steamed and bent. The dark interior of the bark is on the outside of the basket, while the lighter exterior side of the bark is on the inside of the basket. Holes were made in the bark with a bone awl and the pieces were joined with strips of root, probably spruce but possibly willow; the tightly bound rim is finished with root strips, also, combining strength with beauty.
The maker of this basket artistically etched the designs on the basket's sides and ends. The long sides each have three herb sprigs and there are geometric designs on each of the short ends, centered between the laced folds. Interestingly, although all these patterns appear to be painted on, they were actually created by scraping off the surface of the bark, yielding the light colored layer underneath. The Athabascans, who call themselves "Dena" ("the people"), sometimes sold these baskets to bring in money to the community.
This basket is 10 inches long, 9 inches front to back and stands 4 inches high. There is some peeling of the interior bark and there are burn marks on the bottom. There is also, of course, a general darkening of the bark color, but for an antique basket that was in use such as this one, it is in wonderful condition. Like many utilitarian native objects, it is also very decorative and handsome.