Horsehair Baskets: A Unique Artform by the Tohono O'Odham

Photo: Luzi, a Tohono O'Odham woman, photographed by Edward Curtis circa 1905

The Tohono O'Odham (Papago) people are known worldwide for their beautiful basketry. Traditionally a semi-nomadic people, the Tohono O'Odham lifestyle called for light, transportable containers. Their baskets varied in shape and size depending on the use and were traditionally made from willow or yucca. These baskets were utilitarian objects; used for drying fruit, storing food, or sifting and separating seeds.

At the end of the 19th century, the Tohono O'Odham people transitioned from a subsistence economy to a money economy. One of the best ways to make money was to sell artwork and their baskets were in demand. Finer baskets with intricate designs commanded higher prices.

Europeans introduced horses to the American West and in the mid-20th century, those horses greatly influence Tohono O'Odham basketry. They began weaving extremely fine, miniature baskets using the tail hair of horses. Using the same coiling techniques as their more traditional baskets, the horsehair baskets were so fine that it's almost impossible to count the number of stitches per inch. Horsehair baskets have become highly collectible and there are very few Tohono O'Odham artists alive today that can create this beautiful artform.

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