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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

Baskets and Bags

birchbark basket

One very practical form of northwest Aboriginal art was the handcrafted basket or bag. Baskets were made from strips of birchbark, and were typically used to carry everything from water to small animal pelts. The key to the basket making art form lay in the proper selection of suitable bark from birch trees. Trees located near water, like a river or lake, were best because extra moisture in the air and flowing through the bark made the bark more pliable and easier to shape into the desired basket. Once bark was gathered, it would be steamed to keep it soft enough to be moulded into shape. Several strips of bark could be shaped together to make a complete basket. Seams were then sewn together with strands of spruce root string and sealed watertight with spruce gum. Bark or hide could be used to make basket handles and hide was used to make hinges for basket lids.

loon skin bag

Bags could be made in a number of ways. Pieces of tanned hide could be sewn together and beaded to make an attractive bag or purse. Hide taken from the leg of a deer, moose, or caribou would be ideal for making packsacks. Bird skin with the feathers left on could be removed from a bird carcass and crafted into a handsome bag. The skins of waterfowl were particularly useful, as the waterfowl skins would allow bags made from them to be waterproof.

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