California and the Great Basin

The neighboring Great Basin and California cultural regions could not be more different from each other. The Great Basin is a large desert expanse encompassing Nevada, Utah, eastern California, and northern Arizona and New Mexico. The California cultural area, lush with vegetation and teeming with wildlife, spans the present-day state of California and the northern area of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The Native population of this region is both dense and diverse; over 100 different languages are spoken within the area.

About the Gambling Tray

Mrs. Dick Francisco, 1857–1953, Yokuts, Tule River Reservation, central California, Gambling Tray, about 1900, marsh grass root, bracken fern root, redbud. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Photograph by Richard Walker.

The objects from this region include this awe-inspiring gambling tray basket woven by Mrs. Dick Francisco in the early 1900s. One of the largest and finest trays of its kind, it reflects the development of the role of basketry in indigenous art production. Baskets were once an integral part of daily life for the Native population of this region, with uses ranging from food gathering and storage to preparation for games and ceremonies. However, traditional ways of life were shattered by the rapid changes that came with European contact and women turned their formidable weaving skills toward feeding a curio trade hungry for handmade objects that were both beautiful and useful. By the early 1900s, the market stimulated a great flowering of Native innovation and virtuosity, and the California region became synonymous with fine basketry.

Women used decorated trays to play a dice game called Huuchuish. Taking approximately a year to complete, this tray incorporates images of human figures, flowerlike clusters, and diamond-shaped rattlesnake patterns. The tray’s pristine condition suggests that it entered a private collection upon completion.

Gallery Panorama

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