The Oneida Indian Nation’s Shako:wi Cultural Center is home to a collection of baskets dating from the late 1800s to early 1900s in a style identified with Oneida craftsmen. From tiny thimble holders to large urns, the various sized baskets are excellent examples of the craft.
Basket-making is an important part of Haudenosaunee culture, and Oneidas are noted for their basket work in the 1800s. The fur trade was over and new ways of subsisting were needed — basket-making was one of them. Men cut and chopped the trees and made work and pack baskets, while the women made fancy baskets.
Designs adorned many of the baskets, either hand-painted or made by a potato stamp — where the artist would cut a design into the potato and then dip it into paint or dye.
Oneidas employed the painting method more often. Chrome yellow, Spanish brown, indigo, opaque green and peach pink were the colors most used. Their basket-making was influenced by the Northeastern Algonquin, who were taken in by the Oneida. The Algonquin had a rich basket-making tradition. Each group shared its own unique style and together created a new form of basket making.
The styles of baskets became fancier after the Civil War during the Victorian period. The Oneidas’ baskets reflected this fashion with curlicues, ribbons and other intricate detailing.
The baskets also had many different uses. Some were purses, others were sewing kits. One sewing kit was complete with all the necessary accouterments for the discerning seamstress. A pincushion, scissors’ cover and small baskets for spools of thread depict the painstaking workmanship required to create each item.
Today, Oneida artists still make baskets, and innovative art designs are still taking form. The new art will become a part of tradition, ensuring the craft lives on unto the future generations.
The Shako:wi Cultural Center is located on Territory Road, Oneida. Open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seasonal hours on Saturdays. Group tours available. Admission is free. For more information call (315) 829-8801.