Object of the Week: Pomo Basket

Pomo basket
Plant fiber and shell
5” x 20” x 9 ½”
c. 1880
Collected by Brian Templeton, Seton Hall University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology



“Among our people, both men and women were basket makers. Everything in our lifestyle was connected to those baskets. Our lives were bound the way baskets were bound together.” -Susan Billy, Ukiah Pomo, master weaver and teacher[1]

This canoe-shaped gift basket with geometric designs and shell bead decoration is from the Pomo of California who are world renowned for their basketry. The Pomo are native to Mendocino, Sonoma and Lake Counties in Northern California. Historically, the Pomo were comprised of seven different groups with distinct dialects, each living in different areas. They lived in small groups linked by geography, lineage, cultural expression and marriage. However, they are not linked socially or politically as a unified group. Today there are more than 20 independent communities that make up the Pomo people.[2]

Pomo basketry comes in all shapes and sizes and both coiling and twining techniques are adeptly used. Coiling begins at the center of a basket and radiates outward in spirals. Each spiral is sewn to the one that precedes it. Twining is a technique in which one thread is woven over another to form a strong foundation of horizontal and verticals. Historically, the Pomo were known for making baskets woven so tightly they were naturally waterproof. Sedge grasses, willow roots and bullrushes gathered in local coasts and wetlands are commonly used in basket-making, in addition to bird feathers and shells.[3] Once collected, materials are dried, cleaned, split, soaked and dyed.[4] A common design in many Pomo baskets is the Dau, also called the “Spirit Door” which allows good spirits to come circulate inside the basket. There is no specific way for it to be designed – it could be depicted in a minute change in the stitching or an opening between stitches.[5]

In the past, baskets were decorative and given as gifts to respected elders and loved ones, while others served practical purposes in daily life. Women produced most Pomo baskets, specifically those for cooking, storage, and religious ceremonies, while men traditionally made baskets for trapping, fishing, and cradles.[6] Beginning in the 1880’s the tourist industry boomed and a demand for woven goods invigorated production for sale rather than use.

This Pomo basket is from the Seton Hall University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology (SHUMAA) collection. It is but a small part of a vast collection of artifacts from the SHUMAA collection, founded by Seton Hall Professor Herbert Kraft (1927-2000), a leading archaeologist and authority on the Leni Lenape tribe which inhabited New Jersey, Delaware, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania at the time Europeans arrived in the Americas.  For almost forty years, Kraft cultivated the collection with artifacts excavated from archaeological digs conducted throughout the region. Kraft was also instrumental in securing donations of artifacts from noted collectors and archaeologists. The SHUMAA collection includes over 26,000 Native American, Asian and African art and artifacts.


The Walsh Gallery has a considerable collection of fine art, artifacts and archeological specimens for use by faculty, students and researchers. For access to this or other objects in our collections, contact us at 973-275-2033 or walshgallery@shu.edu to make a research appointment. 










[1] http://www.kstrom.net/isk/art/basket/pomohist.html, accessed 11/16/2020.

[2] https://www.drycreekrancheria.com/history-2/, accessed 11/13/2020.

[3] https://www.drycreekrancheria.com/culture/, accessed 11/16/2020.

[4] https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/all_roads_are_good/pomobasket.htm, accessed 11/16/2020.

[5] https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/all_roads_are_good/pomobasket.htm, accessed 11/16/2020.

[6] https://www.hoplandtribe.com/culture-traditions, accessed 11/16/2020.