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The Pitt Rivers Museum

Rachel Max
Contemporary Basketmaker


Monuments to every moment
refuse of every moment, used:
cages for infinity.

Marbles, buttons, thimbles, dice,
pins, stamps and glass beads:
tales of the time.

Memory weaves, unweaves the echoes:
in the four corners of the box

(from the poem 'Objects and Apparitions' by Octavio Paz, translated by Elizabeth Bishop)

Pomo basket, North America, PRM 1948.12.58
Fig. 1: Pomo basket, North America
PRM 1948.12.58

Several years ago I contacted a member of the curatorial team at the Pitt Rivers Museum and arranged to view some Pomo American Indian baskets for a research project. I had heard through the grapevine that the museum has a fantastic basket collection, and I was far from disappointed.

In the dark surroundings of the museum I was greeted by glass treasure chests brimming with artifacts collected or donated over the years. I caught only a glimpse of these as I walked through the museum to a little room where I found eight Pomo baskets neatly placed on a tabletop awaiting my attention (Fig. 1). I spent two whole days in this room, deliberating over the patterns and meanings behind the basket motifs, analysing their construction and the materials used. Most of all I admired their beauty and secretly wished I could have one to own. What I did take away, however, was valuable information and lots to inspire me.
Shortly after my visit I found myself trying out weaves which were new to me. I picked up bird feathers which had fallen to the ground and bought tiny clear glass beads just so that one day I could emulate some of the effects I had seen.

back pack, Malaysia, PRM 1891.55.40
Fig. 2: back pack, Malaysia
PRM 1891.55.40
dilly bag, Australia, PRM 1907.21.5
Fig. 3: dilly bag, Australia
PRM 1900.55.218
Whenever I get the chance to visit Oxford, I always find myself wandering through the doors of the Pitt Rivers Museum, walking slowly past the crammed showcases, stopping in my tracks to examine the selection of coiled baskets, or netted structures with the raw materials from which they were made sitting alongside, some hexagonal plaited baskets (Fig. 2) or twined dilly bags from Australia (Fig. 3). Every time I go I always find something I have not seen before, but I always smile quietly to myself when I approach the cabinet housing the Pomo baskets, pausing here to say hello to some old friends.
Some work by Rachel Max:
Pocket full of air, Maker: Rachel Max Exhale; Maker: Rachel Max Line of Blue; Maker: Rachel Max
A pocket full of air Exhale Line of blue
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Current Impression: 22-sep-2006