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MOTA Opens New Exhibit On Unangan Baskets

Dec 6, 2016

The Museum of the Aleutians has debuted an exhibit on the handwoven grass baskets created by the Unangan people. The showcase is open through mid-January.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

For the first time in more than a year, the Museum of the Aleutians  (MOTA) has a new exhibit. The showcase opened on Friday and displays the museum's entire collection of handwoven grass baskets, which the Unangan people used to carry roots and berries.

Several of them are always visible in the permanent exhibition. But for the next six weeks, Director Neal Hitch said visitors can see all 91 baskets together.

"An Attu basket, for instance, that was made for the museum opening in 1999 by Sharon Kay," he said. "It's a wonderful example of an Attu basket with a very, very tight weave."

In the same glass case, the museum has displayed its lar​gest basket — an Attu piece from the 1890s, which MOTA's first director saw on eBay and eventually persuaded the seller to donate.

The exhibit includes this Attu-style basket, made for the museum's opening in 1999.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

The exhibit features modern examples too, like a cluster of tiny baskets donated by Unalaska's Abi Woodbridge when her store closed. It also includes a series of contempora​ry baskets made by the Chicago-born artist Michael Rasmussen, who lived on the island for 20 years and studied Unangan weaving.

"His pieces are very interesting because many of them are unfinished," said Hitch. "There's this intention to show how the basket is made. Or maybe it's to show the organic growth of the basket."

The new exhibit is the result of a re-inventory project, which has MOTA staffers bringing eve​ry collection item out of storage. With a $1,000 grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum, Hitch said the museum will stage two more short exhibits, highlighting collections of special interest to the communi​ty. 

"After the disruption in staffing here for the last year, we have a lot of tools to do exhibits, but none of the supplies," he said. "The grant is allowing us to resupply our materials, so as we move forward over the next year or two, we'll have materials in-house to do more exhibits."

The basket exhibit will be open through mid-January. After that, Hitch said the museum will develop a new display on the traditional bon​e tools used by Unangan fishermen.