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The craftsman
Vol. VII, No. 3 (December 1904)

Sargent, Irene
Indian basketry: its structure and decoration,   pp. 321-334 PDF (5.2 MB)

Page 321

imitate the basketry of the North American Indians
has recently been the ambition of public school children,
and the passing fancy of club-women. But while both
)f these classes have thus satisfied the natural desire to
-reate something; while they have closely copied shape,
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the meaning of the originals, which in many cases are beautiful speci-
mens of one branch of the second oldest art, if husbandry be counted
as the first. In examining baskets from the hands of these women of
the red race of America, we gain a retrograde vista into the times
"when Adam delved and Eve span," such as can be afforded by no
other extant objects. We gain also, if we wish, the most valuable
ideas and material with which to pursue the study of ornament. For
it is certain that the primitive basket-maker originated the patterns
which, modified by primitive weavers and potters, developed into the
motifs which have served the proudest uses in the decorative arts, and
are still employed, although in forms so highly evolutionized as to be
unrecognizable to the ordinary eye, when they are compared with
their originals; just as the elements of Aryan speech are unsuspected
in the modern languages of Europe by the ordinary persons who use
them as their mother tongues.
   To study decorative art from the surface: that is, to imitate the
designs of authoritative contemporary artists, is not only to remain un-
enlightened, but it is also to produce poor work; for, in the imitation,
the spirit of the original composition will be lost, fitness will, in many
cases, cease, and the principles necessary in the first instance, will be
useless in the copy. The designer, in order to be the master, rather
than the slave of his art, must know the reasons for the historical
changes which have occurred in the elements of ornament with which
he works; since these changes are, many times, the effort of the design
to adapt itself to the rfiaterial upon which it is wrought. Often, too,
they result from the process of "simplification," during the course
which many or most of the original features are lost, and some one
point rises to prominence, as when the object which suggested the
design ceases to be consulted, and reference is made only to some con-
ventionalized form of the original. An excellent illustration of this
long process occurs in the herringbone pattern of Oriental rugs,

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