Tohono Chul’s Permanent Collection consists of artworks and artifacts representative of the Nature, Art, and Culture of the Sonoran Desert Region. Ranging from basketry and fiber arts to sculptural works and paintings, works from the Permanent Collection are displayed through our Quarterly “Collection Spotlight” and periodically in our thematic exhibitions.
Many of the sculptural works on the grounds are Permanent Collection items, including work by Mark Rossi, Fred Borcherdt, Ned Egen, and many others on display year-round.
CURRENT COLLECTION SPOTLIGHT:
Living along the coast of the Gulf of California where the desert meets the sea, the Seri (Comca’ac) were a nomadic people numbering in the thousands when first encountered by the Spanish in the 16th century, migrating seasonally between the Río San Miguel in central Sonora to the coast and Isla Tiburón. Living in an inhospitable land, these traditional hunter/gatherers relied on the edible and useful plants of the Sonoran Desert, its wildlife, and the bounty of the sea to survive where others could not.
Resistant to early Spanish attempts to bring them into the mission system, and later impacted by the forced assimilation/extermination polices of the Mexican government, by the beginning of the 20th century the remaining Seri (about 300 in 1930) had consolidated along the coastline, retreating into the remote mangroves and canyons of Isla Tiburón when threatened.
With Tiburón now an ecological preserve, the majority of Seri today reside on communal lands between the small fishing villages of Punta Chueca and El Desemboque. Still somewhat isolated, despite the development of Kino Bay, they work as fishermen and craftspeople, noted for their stone and ironwood carvings and distinctive baskets.
Before the introduction of plastic, glass, and metal, coiled baskets and trays were vital to everyday Seri life. They served as storage containers and were used to transport virtually anything – plant harvests, wood, laundry, and even meat. Baskets were also used in food preparation, as suitcases, and as garbage bins.
Seri women are solely responsible for basket making. They begin by gathering the stems of the “torote” plant (known commonly as limberbush). The stems are heated over a fire so that the bark loosens and can be easily stripped away. Seri women use their teeth to remove the bark and subsequently to break up the stem cores into thinner strips. Some fiber strips are dyed using vegetal dyes while the rest are left natural. The weaving process is very labor intensive. Large baskets can take months and in some case years to complete.
Image: Unknown Seri Artist . warp and weft: limberbush, native dye . gift of the Estate of Agnes T. and Don L. Smith . 98.1.28
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