The Pearson Basket Collection at the LCM
The cedar-coiled baskets of the N'laka'pamux people have long been admired for the quality of workmanship, as well as the coiled design which involves wrapping bundles of cedar splints with the smooth, split root of a cedar tree. The wrapped coils are stitched together in various shapes, producing vessels that were traditionally bound tightly enough to hold water. The baskets are decorated using imbrication or beading techniques, which involve weaving coloured bark and grasses into the basket while it is being constructed.
N'laka'pamux (formerly known as Thompson) basketry has been studied by many scholars, including ethnologist James Teit who compiled notes on the baskets in the early 1900s. At that time he noted transformations in basket techniques taking place to appeal to new tourist and collector markets. The increasing use of decorative design elements, such as loop-work around the rim of baskets and within the bodies, baskets with lids made from coil-work (including lids with knobs), and the addition of handles are some of the changes he noted. New design elements were created to appeal to European audiences, as were new forms (such as tea cups or serving trays). The Langley Centennial Museum's Pearson collection clearly fits within this tradition. Fine lidded baskets, serving trays, and loop-work baskets are included in the collection. These finely-made baskets represent artistic experimentation and innovation amongst the N'laka'pamux basket-makers to appeal to new markets.
The Pearson basket collection at the Langley Centennial Museum is also, in effect, material evidence of a complicated set of relationships at the nexus of colonial British Columbia. Kathleen Pearson Southwell's family and personal history involve projects that were disruptive to First Nations in British Columbia: Kathleen's father helped to construct the Cariboo Road, and she attended All Hallows School in Yale—a school that provided (in the words of historian Jean Barman) a "separate and unequal" education as both a boarding school for girls of the white elite and a residential school for First Nations girls. While basket-making represented the continuation of a cultural tradition, the production of baskets for the tourism and collectors' market was also driven by the need for N'laka'pamux people to adjust to the new economy in the face of massive change. In personal relationships between Kathleen and the basket-makers, the baskets represent friendship and interdependence.
This site seeks to investigate and present the various ways we can understand these baskets: as carriers of cultural values, as markers of cultural change, as examples of artistic and technical ingenuity, and as bonds of friendship between the collector and their makers.