September Curator’s Corner

This exquisitely made basket appears practically perfect at first glance, but, if you look closely, your eye is drawn to a small imperfection near the rim. This basket’s significance to us is increased by the story behind the flaw uncovered by Sue Ann Monteleone, our former Museum Registrar. Emma Jim Murphy, Mono Lake Northern Paiute, wove this coiled willow vessel and entered it in the 1925 Yosemite Indian Field Days basketry competition. This annual event (1916-1929) was sponsored by the National Park Service and Yosemite concessionaires to encourage tourism. Emma was considered one of the most skilled Yosemite weavers, and the fineness of her stitching (33 stitches per inch) reflects her mastery of craft. Emma’s basket competed for prizes along with hundreds of other weavers and their baskets. Dr. S.L. Lee, a prominent Carson City physician, basketry collector, and enthusiast purchased this basket following the competition. He discusses his treasure in his basketry ledger, stating “it met with an accident” and “four of the five upper ribs were fractured.” He also notes that the basket damage was repaired later that year by Washoe basket weaver, Louisa Keyser (Datsolalee). The most difficult rim repair is noticeable, but her repair of a crack is nearly indistinguishable from the adjoining weave. Both Emma Murphy and Louisa Keyser, who had never met, passed away in 1925, making this basket independently one of the final projects of these famous weavers.