Basket making existed in the Cherokee Indian Tribes
early development. By 1820, it was a thriving industry,
with Cherokee basket makers selling rib baskets to White
Cherokee traditional basketry represents three distinct
traditions. The oldest is the cane split basket. Second, is
the rod and narrow oak splint basket, and the third is the broad oak splint basket.
Cane Splint Basket Art
Cane basketry made from splints has an ancient history in the Southeast, but was not
practiced in many parts of the Boundary because of distance from cane resources.
It had persisted in the Birdtown area of Qualla and at the
Snowbird Community in Tennessee, however. and has been
re-established in all areas in recent decades.
Cane basketry is particularly attractive to women
weavers, because of its potential for great refinement and
perfection in its execution and for elaboration of designs.
Rib Baskets- Rod and Narrow Oak Splint Basket Art
The second tradition, in rods and narrow splints of white oak, is assuredly of European origin.
It is also found in White communities throughout the eastern United States. Known as rib
baskets in the Southern Appalachians and as melon baskets in many other areas, such oval
forms are woven upon a framework of rim and handle as their essential foundations.
Some older Cherokee basket makers have worked in this technique since early childhood,
growing up in households where this technology was the sole basketry tradition of their
family. Others first learned cane techniques or broad oak splint techniques as the exclusive
tradition of their families.
Some family workers included two or three of these separate traditions, and it appears that
the rib basket technology had become fully established as a Cherokee cottage industry by
Rib baskets were already familiar to White buyers, and thus they generally preferred these
to baskets in Indian styles. The manufacture of a good rib basket is time consuming and
arduous, but its efficiency is attractive.
All parts of the oak log are used in making a rib basket: the heartwood is split and carved
into ribs (weft) whereas, the heartwood would be waste in other basketry techniques; all of
the sapwood, even that from inferior logs, can be used for
the narrow splints (warp).
A rib basket conserves material, producing the most basket for the smallest amount of wood
with the least waste. Because good oak wood is still a valuable and scarce commodity, it is
best to turn it into rib baskets, even though the labor is greater.
Broad Oak Splint Basket Art
The third tradition, in broad oak splints, is probably an aboriginal one, although most scholars
would dispute this claim. Broad oak splint baskets can be made only from the sapwood of
white oak logs of first quality. They are of much lighter weight than rib baskets, but are
equally durable. In earlier decades they were the only baskets made in the Big Cove, the
most conservative and the highest and coldest mountain region of the Boundary. Such baskets
find a good market today because they are attractive, useful, and extremely durable.
Craftsmen began adding decorative maple loops to oak broad splint baskets; the frills are
inserted into the basket after the weaving of warp, weft, and handle is completed. The
baskets resemble Easter baskets sold commercially in most parts of the Eastern United
States in mid 1900.
Of all the baskets made at Cherokee the well constructed broad splint oak basket is the
most able to take heavy use. If protected from dampness or carefully dried to prevent
mildew, such baskets may remain in almost constant service for many years.
Indian traditional baskets of oak and cane included hominy sieves, trays, fish creels, and pack
Right: Cherokee Basket artist
Julia Taylor making ribbed
white oak baskets. 1970
Cherokee Indian Basket Making