USF's Museum Blog

Interwoven: Native California Basketry Arts from the Missions Forward

by Nell Herbert

Nell Herbert working with curator Kristina Foss on the Interwoven layout.

Nell Herbert working with curator Kristina Foss on the Interwoven layout.

University of San Francisco’s Mary and Carter Thacher Gallery may be small, but it packs a powerful punch. Since 1998 the gallery has presented rich and dynamic exhibitions covering a multitude of media and subject matters, and the two shows that I’m working on as part of my 2015 summer internship are no exception. Located within Gleeson Library, Thacher Gallery is free and open to the public. As a university gallery, it has an extensive and diverse array of resources and contributors available for any given exhibition, and gallery shows often incorporate university students and faculty as well as Bay Area artists and other arts-based institutions. As a USF student, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute to two exciting upcoming exhibitions.

The first is Interwoven: Native California Basketry Arts from the Missions Forward, which opens on August 28th, 2015. The show includes approximately fifty historical Native American baskets, primarily from California mission collections. The majority of the baskets included in Interwoven were created during the Mission Era through the early 20th century. A few contemporary baskets will also be on display to exemplify how the Native basket making tradition has survived and adapted over time. Baskets were, and still are, an integral part of daily life in many California Native cultures. I began working on the show during the 2015 spring semester in both the Exhibition Design and Museums and Social Justice classes, and it has been a great experience continuing and expanding that work this summer.

Nell installing a basket for the exhibition.

Nell installing a basket for the exhibition.

The Interwoven-related projects that I’m working on encompass a wide range of museum and gallery work. These include curatorial tasks like researching and writing label and panel text, helping to design the show’s layout, and developing educational curriculum for school tours. The baskets recently arrived at the gallery, and we are currently working on the installation process. Finally seeing the baskets in person, I am amazed by their intricacy, beauty, and diversity of functions. Over the past few months I’ve learned a lot from working closely with the gallery’s director (Glori Simmons), the show’s curator (Kristina Foss), and conservator Elizabeth Cornu, who is advising us on how to pack, transport, and display the fragile baskets.

Conservator Elizabeth Cornu advising Glori Simmons and Nell Herbert on how to safely pack and transport the Interwoven baskets.

Conservator Elizabeth Cornu advising Glori Simmons and Nell Herbert on how to safely pack and transport the Interwoven baskets.

Part of what originally drew me to University of San Francisco was the university’s commitment to social justice, which is also a central tenet of Thacher Gallery’s mission statement. This includes a willingness to tackle difficult or controversial subject matters. One of the most challenging and also rewarding components of my work thus far has been editing and contributing to the Interwoven panel text. A major theme in Interwoven is the cultural survival of Native basketry arts despite extreme hardship and population loss. Some of the text that we’ve written tells the history of Indigenous Californians’ experience of colonization and missionization. Kristina, Glori and I have worked hard to create a safe space in which to tell this difficult story. At the same time, we want to celebrate and highlight the sheer beauty and artistry of the baskets included in the show.

Blog post image 3

Photo by Ruben Mendoza

In addition to working on Interwoven, Glori invited me to curate a Thacher Gallery exhibition scheduled for next spring. Adjacent Shores will present the mixed media work of San Francisco-based artists Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather.

Hughen/Starkweather, Submerged 1 (detail) Gouache, ink, acrylic paint, and pencil on paper, 201

Hughen/Starkweather, Submerged 1 (detail)
Gouache, ink, acrylic paint, and pencil on paper, 2015

The exhibit will include the artists’ response to an 18th century Japanese copy of Fr. Matteo Ricci’s 1602 world map, and their current work that investigates shifting shorelines. The Thacher show will complement two concurrent exhibitions with similar themes, one at USF’s Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History and another at the Asian Art Museum. My work on this project has just begun, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the curatorial process. I am particularly excited to work with two local artists whose work I admire.

For more information on USF’s Museum Studies program, click here.

For more information on the Interwoven opening, click here.

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