Native American Baskets: Ollas or Jars

Origin: Apache, American Indians

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Southwest Indian Apache Baskets and Fine ArtApache Indian girl with Olla basket

Apache is a collective term for several culturally related groups of Native Americans living primarily in the Southwest, which includes the Jicarilla and the Western Apache.  Because they were a nomadic people, though usually within a very limited territory, they did not take to making pottery (with some exceptions such as Tammie Allen of Jicarilla).  They did, however, weave, and became very skilled in the art of Basketry.

The Jicarilla Apache basketry covers a long span of time, but very little is known of their work before they were settled on a reservation in 1887 in northern New Mexico. All Jicarilla baskets are of coil weave, usually of sumac, but sometimes of willow.

The Western Apache reservations are in Arizona, east of Phoenix and close to the New Mexico border. They consist of the San Carlos Reservation and the White Mountain Reservation.

Of all Southwestern Indian basketry, those of the Western Apache have  long been admired for their craftsmanship and beauty. Again, the Apache were somewhat nomadic and relied on hunting and gathering as a means of subsistence. Basketry was a convenient vessel for gathering nuts, roots and other edible items.

In earlier days, the average Apache home would have a number of baskets around to be used in the day-to-day activities. A water jar (tus) would be used to go to the river for water. It would be brought home and emptied into a larger tus. Trays would be used for storage of foodstuffs or for winnowing. Burden baskets would be used for hauling large quantities of food or even firewood. Baskets were also used in girl’s puberty rite ceremonies.

Photo of Indian girl with basket - Source: Public domain.