Justin Farmer Draws Basket Fans
Justin Farmer, an Ipai Native American who is an authority on Indian basketry, last weekend conducted “Working Knowledge,” a seminar on identifying, collecting and caring for baskets at the Wells Fargo Theater at The Autry, drawing a total 111 people over the two days.
Farmer, who in the past has been affiliated with the Southwest Museum, talked about his preference for traditional weaving methods and for keeping the old ways alive, as well as his predilection for seeking older baskets that might be considered antiques.
Others who attended, including dealer Conrad Angone, advocated for collecting regardless of the reason, that is, a collection might be worthwhile even if one collects newly made baskets only for the beauty and intricacy of the designs.
Abe Sanchez, a former student of Farmer’s who attended the lecture, said interest in basket collecting and weaving has surged in recent years.
“There’s a big movement,” Sanchez said. “In the whole Americas, this is happening, but here in California specifically, there has been a very big movement in reviving basketry again.”
Sanchez weaves fine art baskets and also works with Native American groups to revive the art. Get a look at a sample of his work here and here. Sanchez has specialized in the Southern California style of weaving and worked with Native American groups to reclaim their traditional styles. He said collectors who buy baskets for their artistic value can help this revival because they spur the new weavers to continue with the work.
“When you buy a basket from somebody, you’ve complemented them,” he said. “That ignites them to go back and make a better basket . . . When we buy these things from people, we’re helping that revitalization.”
Sanchez acknowledged that many collectors want to specialize in antique baskets, shunning the newer ones in part because some new weavers have promulgated “mistakes” or “wrong” ways of weaving. Sanchez says he has researched basketry traditions in order to show his students how to get as close as possible to stitches that are indigenous to their own groups.
“There are certain techniques that are unique to Southern California basketry,” he said. “When I teach, I amplify that.”
Farmer said he was impressed with the level of expertise of the audience at the event. Whereas on the first day people asked questions that followed up on his talk, the second day the conversation was more wide-ranging.
“I judge the participation by the questions that are asked,” he said. “That tells you what the interest is.”
Farmer said he also has been impressed with the resurgence of interest in baskets and basket-weaving. Indeed, the Autry’s exhibit, The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Tradition, was originally scheduled to end in May, but now it has been extended until November.
“When I first started, there were three weavers in Southern California,” Farmer said. “Now there’s a hundred.”
Robert London Moore Jr., a member of the museum, brought some baskets he found in his mother’s attic. He said he was impressed with Farmer’s breadth of knowledge. He said his mother once had used one of the baskets he brought as a waste basket.
“I’ll maybe put them on display somewhere,” he said.
Moore said his great-aunt had been a friend of Charles Fletcher Lummis, founder in 1907 of the Southwest Museum, which merged with the Autry in 2003. He said he remembers going to Lummis’s home, “El Alisal,” with his great-aunt when he was a child.
“He lived across the street from her,” he said.
If you missed Farmer but would still like to learn more about basketry, don’t forget we have another Basketweaving Collaborative program this Saturday.