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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

yiq́us (coiled basket)

Photo: Paul Macapia

yiq́us (coiled basket)


Susan Wawatkin Bedal

Sauk, 1865-1947

Susan Bedal possessed an intimate knowledge of gathering and preparing natural materials from the prairies, meadows and forests of the Cascade Mountains and crafting those materials into masterful works. A dye created from berries found in the Sauk homelands produces the unique rose color seen on this basket in the triangular forms that represent butterflies. Bedal achieved visual balance through the placement and disposition of the designs on the surface of the basket by using an additive technique called imbrication. Some coiled baskets served functional purposes, but this decorated basket was made as a special gift and was considered a symbol of wealth.
Cedar root, horsetail root, cedar bark, cherry bark
11 1/2 x 15 x 13 in. (29.2 x 38.1 x 33 cm)
Gift of Jean Bedal Fish and Edith Bedal, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
Photo: Paul Macapia
Now on view at the Seattle Art Museum

The earth is our first teacher. Everything we need to know about how to live in this world comes from the teachings of the earth.

Vi Hilbert, Upper Skagit elder, 2003

Role of Women Weavers in the Puget Sound

A Chief's Daughter, Plate 300, From The North American Indian, List of Large Plates Supplementing Volume Nine, 1912, Edward S. Curtis, 86.157
Distinctive styles, shapes, techniques and materials were used by female basket makers depending on the region of Puget Sound in which they lived and, to some extent, on their individual artistic choices. Thus, even with inadequate records, many baskets can be attributed to a cultural group, tribe, village or even an artist by the physical characteristics of the basket. We are fortunate to know quite a bit about the basket artist Susan Bedal and to have several examples from her hand in the Seattle Art Museum's collection.
Puget Sound Salish basketmaker, ca. 1900, Anders B. Wilse
Basketry was a source of pride for the basket's maker, her family and her tribal group. Young girls were taught basketry by watching older women and by experimenting with extra materials. The hope was that a young girl would be proficient enough to make the particular baskets needed for gathering food, storing food and clothing, carrying water, and cooking. In addition, woven cedar or cattail mats were needed within the home for bedding, to partition family quarters within the longhouse, for use in the canoe, and to cover the temporary structures erected at harvesting and gathering sites. There appear to have been "basket specialists," like Susan Bedal, whose talents would be called on to supplement the basic skills of female family members and who would provide highly decorated baskets for special occasions, as gifts, and, after the 1870s, for sale to outsiders.

Who Are the Sauk-Suiattle?

The Sauk-Suiattles descend from peoples who inhabited the upper Skagit River watershed, near present-day Darrington, Washington. Their homelands are near the Cascade Mountains along the Suiattle River, a tributary of the Sauk. Being situated near the mountains enabled the Sauk-Suiattles to trade actively with other Natives peoples on both sides of the Cascades. They lived in communal cedar-plank, shed-roof houses at the mouth of the Sauk and upstream to the Sauk prairie, an important gathering place for several tribes. During the summer months they occupied temporary shelters farther up the Sauk River, where they hunted for elk, fished for salmon, and picked berries, bulbs and wild plants.

Susan Bedal's father, Wa-wat-kin, refused to sign the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, which many Puget Sound groups did, because he feared that under the treaty his people would not be able to stay in their homelands. A subchief, however, did sign the treaty, whereby the Sauk-Suiattles and Upper Skagit peoples were considered one entity. In the 1870s surveyors for the railroad entered their territories, followed by white settlers. In 1946, the Sauk-Suiattles separated from the Upper Skagits, and in 1973 they received federal recognition and a land base for their reservation. Since 1976 they have been members of the Skagit System Cooperative, which regulates and enhances fishing in the Skagit River systems. A population of about 200 members live on the reservation, in the non-Native town of Darrington, and in other Puget Sound locations.
Area of the Bedal homestead on the Sauk River, 2006
Photo: Barbara Brotherton

What Materials Are Used to Make Sauk Baskets?

Much work had to be completed before baskets could be woven. Women needed to know about plants, their locations and life cycles and how to process and "cure" them. Much of this knowledge was passed down in families. Harvesting plant materials was often an arduous process that sometimes required traveling to several types of areas-riverine, coastal, or mountainous-during different seasons of the year for particular plants. The roots, leaves, stems, and fruit of trees, plants, grasses, and sedges were collected for dyes and for weaving materials. Some important materials that Puget Sound weavers used to create a basket's structure are cedar bark, cedar root, spruce root, and cattail leaves. Cherry bark, beargrass, maidenhair fern, horsetail, and cherry bark were used for the decorative elements. Because brown was the natural color of many basket materials, they were colored using mud, Oregon grape, moss alder bark, willow bark or berries. Given the almost limitless possibilities the natural world provided, women weavers nonetheless made choices based on the traditions of their tribal group and sometimes on personal preferences. While innovation was an accepted and recognized aspect of individual talents, it was important to stay within the aesthetics of the tribal traditions.

The Art of Basketry

Basketry is among the most highly developed art forms of Puget Sound's First People. Archaeology conducted within the Coast Salish territories indicates that baskets of both the coiled and twined types were used as early as 3,000 years before the present, during the Locarno Beach phase of prehistory (1000-500 BP). These sites and others at Hoko River and Ozette (wet sites) provide preserved samples from which to conduct radiocarbon dating. Such ancient sites are rare, however, and do not tell the whole story of early basketry traditions. Scholars and Native artists use records from these sites in conjunction with written accounts of explorers and anthropologists, baskets in museum collections, and Native oral histories to understand the origins, styles, processes and changes in basketry over time.
Native Americans selling baskets outside Frederick & Nelson, Seattle, ca. 1912
Michael Cirelli Collection, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle; All Rights Reserved, 2002.50.41.1

View a Map of Puget Sound Native Cultures

Map of Puget Sound Native Cultures
© Seattle Art Museum

How Did Susan Bedal Make This Basket?

Diagram of coiling process
This basket utilizes a weaving technique called coiling for the structure of the basket, and a technique called imbrication for adding decorative elements. Coiling is a process in which successive coils-or bundles of plant materials-are placed one upon another to form a continuous spiral surface. Each coil is bound to the next by an overcast sewing stitch, resulting in a highly textured, almost corrugated look.
Diagram of the imbrication method of decoration
Imbrication is a method of adding surface decoration by taking a strip of colored bark or grass, laying it along the coil, and catching it under an encircling stitch to hold it in place.


Randy Lewis, contemporary Northwest weaver, talks about Susan Wawatkin Bedal
Kimberly Miller, Skokomish Weaver, talks about the importance of weaving


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, S'abadeb - The Gifts: Pacific Coast Salish Art and Artists, October 24, 2008 - January 11, 2009; Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC, November, 2009 - March, 2010

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, The View From Here: The Pacific Northwest 1870-1940, July 1, 2004 - March 27, 2005
Published ReferencesSeattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, p. 33

Brotherton, Barbara, Native Art of the Northwest Coast, A Community of Collectors, Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 2008, p. 150, illus. 128

Seattle Art Museum acknowledges that we are on the traditional homelands of the Duwamish and the customary territories of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Peoples. As a cultural and educational institution, we honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future. We also acknowledge the urban Native peoples from many Nations who call Seattle their home.

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