Southern California Basketry
Southern Californa has a warmer climate, less rainfall, fewer rivers, and fewer forested areas than do the central and northern parts of the California culture area. It is essentially a desert environment with vegetation such as mesquite, sagebrush, and chaparral. Oaks, however, grow naturally in the valleys on the lower slopes of mountains, and the acorn became the staple in the diet of the native peoples of southern California. As intensive hunters and gatherers of the diverse plant and animal life in their territory, they also depended on pine nuts, seeds of various grasses, roots, berries, and greens. Fishing was important along the coast and in areas of streams and lakes in the interior, and the hunting of small land mammals provided meat.
The mission at San Diego was established in 1769, and over the next half century the mission system moved northward, decimating the populations and drastically changing the lives of the coastal cultures in southern California. Despite the fact that not all groups were missionized, the peoples of this area are often referred to collectively as the "Mission Tribes."
Basketry traditions in southern California are primarily characterized by the technique of bundle coiling. The most common method was to use bundles of grasses such as deer grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) sewn together by a weft of rush (Juncus textilis) or willow (Salix sp.). Other materials such as redbud (Cercis occidentalis) were used to create designs in the weft. The variegated cream to dark brown color of the juncus rush gives a mottled appearance to some of the basketry, as is seen on the "Mission" basketry tray to the left (10 3/4" in diameter) and in the basket at the top of the page. Both baskets have foundation bundles of deer grass, with wefts of both rush and sumac. The designs in black and orange-brown are done in dyed rush. The Luiseño basket (10" in diameter) to the right is also made of deer grass bundles that are wrapped in a weft of both rush and sumac. The designs are dyed rush.
In addition to geometric designs, southern California weavers favored representations of rattlesnakes and occasional human forms. The Yokut basket on the left (17 3/4" in diameter) is from the southern San Joaquin Valley. It is known as a "friendship basket" because of the encircling band of human figures holding hands, and it also features a rattlesnake design in the form of the dark band with red diamonds just below the rim.This basket has a foundation of deer grass, with the weft made of rush.