White oak baskets are both functional and artistic. Crafted out of the hardwood, they are dyed naturally, using walnuts, berries or other native plants. An authentic Cherokee Indian made white oak basket that is protected from moisture can be a valuable and beautiful house centerpiece for many, many years.
Crafting a white oak basket requires enormous amounts of time and patience. Cherokee artisans are quick to tell you that one does not rush a basket, and that making them is a matter of days and weeks, not minutes or hours.
Gathering the material
First, the Cherokee basket maker must venture into nature and collect the necessary materials. This requires finding white oak trees of a certain girth. The trees selected are from both on or off the reservation lands owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the mountains of North Carolina, known as the Qualla Boundary.
The oak trees that are chosen must be felled and cut into sections. Paying close attention to the grain, the artisan – with family members often pitching in to help – shingles sections of the white oak into splints.
A white oak basket can use either narrow splints or broad ones, depending on the style and size of basket the maker has decided to create. Family heritage often plays a role in these decisions. Many of the Native American crafters have grown up in households that follow unique and traditional basket-making techniques.
Preparing the splints
The splints now in hand, each must be scraped until pliable and smooth. Along with white oak, these artisans and their families also gather dye material found in nature. They do so in a respectful, cultural manner to ensure regrowth for the generations of basket makers to come. Traditionally the Cherokees use walnuts to make a deep brown color; butternut is used for black and blood root produces shades of orange. Other plants can generate still more colors used in basketmaking. Once the colors are determined, the white oak splints are then boiled with the bark, berries or plant roots. This process can take anywhere from an hour to five hours … or even more to get the desired results. Now, with the trees cut and splints made and dyed, the artisan begins to make a white oak basket.
Woven by Hand
First the base is built using wider splints to give the basket durability and stability. Then, the artisan places still more splints vertically, providing a framework for the basket’s sides. Other splints are woven in geometric patterns, under and over the ones that are vertical. A rim finishes the basket, and, if desired, the artisan also adds handles. Basket patterns have been handed down for generations and yet each basket is unique when completed.
Cherokee baskets are highly collectible. Over time, they typically increase in value, sometimes significantly. Cherokee made baskets can be found in top museums around the world, including the Smithsonian collections in Washington DC. Regionally, the widest selection of authentic Cherokee made baskets are available for purchase through Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual in the historic district of Cherokee, NC. View our gallery for a few samples of what we have in stock. Call or email us if you are looking for a particular size or type of basket.
Cherokee made baskets can be found in top museums around the world