Native Alaska YUP'IK Basket

Agnes Tommy
Item number: PYH 5330  

This is a "mingqaq," which means "coiled grass basket" in the Yup'ik language. It was made by Agnes Tommy in Newtok (Yup'ik name: Niugtaq), a small village on the Ningliq River in Alaska. In a Los Angeles Times newspaper article about climate changes in Newtok, Agnes Tommy was mentioned; in 2004 when the article was published, she was "probably 82." This basket was probably made in the 1960's, when Agnes Tommy was in her 40's.

The basket is symmetrical and expertly shaped, with no sagging or irregularities. Made of local grasses, the globe shaped basket has a knob top on the lid that serves as a handle. There are geometric designs, spaced around the basket, that are composed of red and brown dyed grass. Measuring 10 1/2 inches tall with a 30 inch circumference around the equator (about 9 inches across), it rests on a 4 1/2 inch diameter base. It weighs 3/4 of a pound and is in very good condition. Around the upper rim there are a few areas of missing stitches (shown) and the dyes have faded, more in some areas than in others. The lid fits snugly and the basket displays handsomely.

Accompanying the basket is a typed information card from Arctic Travelers Gift Shop in Fairbanks, Alaska, established in 1955. It describes the process of making the basket from the viewpoint of a native weaver. There is also a hangtag from the shop, identifying the artist as Agnes Tommy and the place of origin as Newtok. The tag also guarantees that the basket is a genuine, handcrafted Alaska-made item.

>>>Newtok made the news frequently over the last 20 years, due to the twin effects of erosion and melting permafrost on their land. In 2019, 18 families were the first to move from Newtok to the new village of Mertarvik, located across the river, which is expected to be completed by 2023. Studies have shown that large parts of Newtok will become part of the river in the next 5 years or so.


PYH 5330  

Native American artist Matilda Saraficio made this handsome coiled basket at Geawuk on the Tohono O'odham Reservation in Arizona. The pattern is striking: four flying birds, each with a perfectly placed eye with a centered pupil. Matilda was an exhibitor at the Tucson Folklife Festival in 2012, demonstrating her coiled baskets.

The dish-shaped basket was coiled of bleached yucca leaves stitched tightly together, the rim stitching and the birds made with devil's claw. The accompanying tag, signed by Matilda and proclaiming the basket "PAPAGO INDIAN HANDICRAFT FROM KITT PEAK, ARIZONA," gives further information on the reverse side. (Kitt Peak mountain and Geawuk are both in Pima County, Arizona.) The tag's tied on to the basket with a piece of old white string. There is a similar basket--with a less interesting pattern--in the Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It was purchased by a couple vacationing in the Kitt Peak area in 1972.

The basket is in wonderful condition, with no broken or missing stitches, no stains and only slight fading of the devil's claw. The diameter is 8 1/4 inches, the height is 1 3/4 inches and it weighs 6 ounces. The tag is in good condition, with the printing and writing clear on both sides. This is an excellent basket to display...and desirable for the basket collector.


PYH 5514