A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets

October 3, 2013 — December 8, 2013

Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW)

A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets explores the revival of traditional basketry in America during the past fifty years through works by sixty-three contemporary basketmakers. Made between 1983 and 2011, the 105 baskets on display demonstrate the endurance of indigenous, African, and European basket-weaving traditions in the United States as well as interpretations of the craft by individual makers. The basketmakers represented in the exhibition work almost exclusively with undyed native materials—grasses, trees, vines and bark—that they have gathered by hand. Many cite gathering and preparing materials as steps that are as important to their process as weaving and acts that connect their finished products to the surrounding environment.

This exhibition celebrates the generous gift of seventy-nine baskets to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the noted collectors Steven R. Cole and Martha G. Ware, and the promised gift of twenty more. The gift more than doubles the museum’s collection of contemporary baskets, making it one of the leading public collections of this craft. The Cole-Ware collection presents an encyclopedic view of this medium, and is notable for the care with which samples were collected. Nearly all of the works in the exhibition were purchased by the collectors directly from the artists, and were on public display for the first time at the Renwick Gallery. The forms—from baskets for eggs, harvest, and market to those for sewing, laundry, and fishing creels—reveal the central role basketry has played in the everyday life of Americans. Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, organized the exhibition.

Credit

A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The James Renwick Alliance and Margot Heckman generously support the exhibition. Additional support for the accompanying exhibition film was provided by the National Basketry Organization and Wonder Laboratories.

Publication

The exhibition catalogue is written by Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, with a foreword by Henry Glassie, college professor emeritus of folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington. The book is distributed by the University of North Carolina Press and is available for purchase online.