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October 11, 2013

Native American basket exhibit opening Thursday

More than 20 Native American baskets hailing from many decades ago will be on display at the Merced County Courthouse Museum starting Thursday.

More than 20 Native American baskets from many decades ago will be on display at the Merced County Courthouse Museum starting Thursday.

The exhibit, called “Weaving a Legacy: The History of Central California Indian Basketry,” runs through February 2014, according to Sarah Lim, director of Merced County Courthouse Museum.

The one-of-a-kind baskets are handmade by Native American tribes, including the Yokuts Indian tribe, which Lim said were the first to inhabit the area.

About 20 of the baskets come from the private collection of a local accountant and collector, Grey Roberts.

Roberts, a Merced native, is also an avid collector of historic postcards and currency. He’s been collecting baskets for about eight years.

“I just got interested in the local Indian culture so I started looking at baskets made in the Valley,” Roberts said. “There are Indians that lived in this area before the Gold Rush. That’s why we’re doing this exhibit — to expose people to the Indian culture.”

Basket weaving has now become a dying art, Roberts said, but in its heyday women spent months weaving baskets.

“These people were artists at the least and were laboring to make these baskets,” Roberts said.

Some of the baskets have traveled all over the country, but Lim said it’s an honor to bring them back to their place of origin.

“We thought it would be a great show for the museum,” Lim said. “We want to bring the baskets back home to share with museum visitors in the Valley.”

Lim said the exhibit includes interactive story panels about the history of Indians who settled in the Merced County area, designed with elementary school students in mind. The Merced County Historical Society is encouraging area schools to bring students by offering transportation grants, Lim said.

Julia Parker, 84, a basket weaver at the Yosemite National Park Museum, said the baskets on display in Merced are unique because they contain original fibers and special designs unique to each tribe.

“We put all kinds of patterns in our baskets,” Parker said, who made a basket for Queen Elizabeth in 1968. “We will be bringing some of our personal baskets for display.”

Parker said she will attend the exhibit’s opening Thursday with her daughter, who will demonstrate basket weaving techniques.

The exhibit’s opening ceremony at 5p.m. Thursday will feature the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. Admission is free. The Merced County Courthouse Museum is located on 21st and N streets in Merced.

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