Tohono O'odham Basketry & Art

In the Tohono O'odham language, there is no word for "art." Instead, the Tohono O'odham have always created artful ways of living, seeking ways to blend beauty and usefulness. Weavers try to live in ways that bring together the material, spiritual and aesthetic worlds. In basketry, beauty and utility are joined together. Some call it art… most basketweavers simply call it life.


 Learn more....• Basketry Materials• TOCA's Gallery• Why Buy from TOCA? For countless generations, the woven basket has been an important tool for the Tohono O'odham. At home, baskets have been used to carry water and firewood, prepare food, and store household items.… The traditional ceremonies, dances and stories that reflect the sacredness of the world around us always utilize special baskets.… And for hundreds of years, Tohono O'odham weavers have traded their baskets with other Native and non-Native peoples.  The history of Tohono O'odham basketry combines utility, ceremony, trade and artistry.



Closed-Stitch Baskets


The O'odham Himdag - Desert People's Lifeways - is tangible in every closed-stitch basket. These coiled baskets have been made for many centuries. The sturdy inner coil is completely covered by hundreds - sometimes thousands - of tight stitches which are woven directly next to one another.





The weaver incorporates different desert plant fibers in order to create the bold designs and patterns common in closed-stitch baskets.











Split-Stitch Baskets


The split-stitch basket's inner coil is exposed by spacing stitches further apart. Alternating stitches and "blank space" weavers create mesmerizing designs. Subtle geometric patterns - particularly stars and sun rays - dominate open-stitch basketry. The effect can be almost hypnotic. White yucca stitches stand out against the green beargrass of the inner coil to create the basket's design.



Horsehair Baskets


The arrival of the horse helped define the American West. In the mid-20th century, it also helped define Tohono O'odham basketry when weavers began to weave very fine miniature baskets from the hair of horses' tails. Horsehair baskets are created using essentially the same techniques as those used in other coiled baskets. The skill and time that go into these unique creations are comparable to their larger relatives.


Contemporary Baskets


Native peoples continue to trade and share traditions with each other, combining designs, materials and techniques of different tribes. Other contemporary weavers combine basketry with pottery, gourds, beadwork and other materials to create "art baskets" which focus on beauty more than utility. With a contemporary feel, these examples of modern fiber arts may be a glimpse into the future of Indian basketry.


Terrol Johnson, Tristan Reader, Co-founders of Tohono O'odham Community Action