Filmed by one of the artists featured in the collection, A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets celebrates the gift and loan of 105 baskets to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the noted collectors Steven R. Cole and Martha G. Ware.
The film documents the work and philosophy of seven master basket makers featured in the collection who represent the major categories of materials shown in the exhibition.
The gift more than doubles the museum’s collection of contemporary baskets, making it one of the leading public collections of this craft. Nearly all of the works in the exhibition were purchased by the collectors directly from the artists, and will be on public display for the first time at the Renwick Gallery, the museum’s branch for craft and decorative art, Oct. 4- Dec. 22.
The 105 baskets on display were made between 1983 and 2011 and demonstrate the endurance of indigenous, African, and European basket weaving traditions in the United States. The Cole-Ware collection presents an encyclopedic view of this medium, and is notable for the care with which samples were collected. The sixty-three weavers represented craft their baskets almost entirely from un-dyed native materials—grasses, trees, vines, and bark—that they have gathered.
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, is organizing the exhibition.