Very Large Western Apache Basket Olla, c.1900


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Once Known Native American Weaver

This Western Apache basket storage jar, or olla, is excessively large and commanding in remarkable designs. It measures 21 inches in height and 20 inches at its maximum width. From the flat base on which it rests, the wall expands outward to the midpoint of the olla, and then gracefully slopes inward to the point where the rim curves out. The diameter of the base is 10-½" the widest point of the body is 20",the cincture at the neck is 11-½" and the rim diameter is 13-½".

According to Clara Lee Tanner in Apache Indian Baskets (p. 113), "There is some question as to whether the jar was a form developed by Apaches for Apaches-or for the white man. . . Several researchers have not observed jars in use in the wickiups of these Indians". Whether for use or for sale is not important. What is important is the beauty achieved by the weaver on such a large scale.

This basket was divided into sections for design placement. Four dark bands run vertically from base to rim. In each black band are diamonds containing stacked black triangles (arrow heads?). Pictorial elements fill the areas between the black bands. There are animals, pairs of humans, corn plants, humans on horseback, an American flag on a flagpole, a very tall man wearing a hat, and several whirling log or swastika symbols. These designs float over the basket wall.

A little history of Apache basketmaking reveals some interesting facts. Because the Western Apache made little if any pottery, they needed baskets for transporting everything from grain to firewood, and for use in meal preparation. During the final decades of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth, the magnificent, coiled baskets of Western Apache were eagerly sought by collectors. Contact with whites severely disturbed the Apache's traditional pattern, but baskets began to gain a new importance with the development of a market among occupying troops on the reservation and steadily encroaching settlers. A number of basketry innovations developed in response to the cash market, but most of the changes were modifications of traditional shapes and designs. [Whiteford, 1988:63]

The Western Apache consists of five individual Apache tribes, one of which is the Tonto. It has been quoted from a statement by Mrs. J. S. Newman (not identified) the Tonto should rank first as the best basket makers. They made chiefly ollas, which require more skill than plaques or bowl shapes, and their work is universally even and good. Their specimens are nearly always marked with the arrow point, the pattern running vertically from the center. (This comment came from a 1904 book my Mason) Ibid, p.63

Unfortunately, Mason does not illustrate any Tonto baskets or describe them in further detail. The statement about arrow points leads us to question whether these are arrow points in the dark vertical bands on this large olla. If so, is this one of the Tonto basket ollas? By the 1880s, the Western Apache were designing most of their baskets to please and attract white customers, and the large, visible designs became their most popular products. Certainly this olla, with an American Flag, was intended for one of the military persons at the time.

"Around the turn of the century, Western Apache women briefly made coiled ollas in many shapes and sizes, but the production of large baskets declined soon after 1900 because smaller baskets were more profitable. . . Many of the large ollas are about 20 to 24 inches high, and some are as tall as 36 inches or more." Ibid, 82

Condition: good condition with some missing stitches. There are some stitches missing on the underside.

Provenance: this Very Large Western Apache Basket Olla, c.1900 is from the collection of a resident of Santa Fe


- Tanner, Clara Lee. Apache Indian Baskets, The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1982

- Whiteford, Andrew Hunter. Southwestern Indian Baskets - Their History and Their Makers, SAR Press, Santa Fe, 1988

TAGS: Native American BasketsApache, American Indians

Alterante view oft his basket showing more of the rim area.

Once Known Native American Weaver
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