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Forces of Nature: Made from Nature.

Tray. Southern California (Mission culture, probably Cahuilla), about 1900. Attributed to Guadelupe Arenas, active about 1900-1920. Coiled grass stems, juncus grass, sumac. Diameter: 11 1/2" (29.2 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. John Wheelock Elliot and John Morse Elliot Fund 1992.197.

Basketry was the major art form of the Mission Indians (so named because they lived near the Spanish missions along the California coast). Coiled baskets and other objects were woven primarily of native sumac (often dyed) and juncus grass, whose stem changes naturally from deep brown to tan as it grows. Fine Mission baskets such as this were made for collectors from the 1890s into the 1930s, providing much-needed income for the weavers and their families. This tray may be the work of Guadelupe Arenas, who worked as a laundry woman in a Palm Springs tuberculosis sanitorium. The rattlesnake, a favorite motif on Mission baskets, was viewed as a symbol of power, an avenging spirit, and a protective deity that would bring good fortune to the weaver.

Notice how the basket's circular form is echoed in the curving body of the snake. Now look for straight lines: the diamond pattern along the snake's back, its double tongue, and rattles. How do these elements work together?

GalleryCard submitted by Margaret Burchenal, Head of School Programs, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
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Author:Burchenal, Margaret
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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