Collaborative work towards the preservation of spruce root basketry as a living tradition

Molly Gleeson and Samantha Springer


During the summer of 2007, interns Samantha Springer and Molly Gleeson, Native Alaskan weavers Janice Criswell and Teri Rofkar, and conservator Ellen Carrlee worked to preserve Haida and Tlingit spruce root baskets in the collections of the Alaska State Museums. A major focus of this project was to encourage collaboration between the conservators and Native weavers. By focusing on a specific type of basketry the interns were able to allow this collaboration to direct the process of preserving the baskets. Additionally, their work was enhanced by collaborating with each other and other museum professionals daily about treatment solutions and techniques, as well as by interacting with Native demonstrators, the local community, and the surrounding southeastern Alaskan environment.

The interns’ major responsibility was the treatment of several Haida and Tlingit spruce root baskets. To understand the materials, technologies, and properties of these baskets more fully, they worked with Native weavers to learn gathering, processing, and weaving of the spruce roots. Besides these more concrete concepts, they also gained an understanding of the weavers’ relationship to the materials, the baskets, and the environment. The weavers made regular appearances in the lab to discuss the history of the baskets in the collection and previous and current treatment techniques and approaches. Through this interaction, the interns developed a greater responsibility and ownership of the information that they acquired and a desire to ensure that it is passed on in an accurate and respectful manner.

The interaction between weavers, conservators, other museum professionals, and the public took preservation of the baskets beyond the confines of an eight-week internship in the conservation lab and helped to bring these baskets, their traditions, and their stories into the community. Such interactions encourage preservation efforts to progress beyond project-driven collaboration towards a more organic collaborative process of conservation.

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2008 | Denver | Volume 15