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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Coiled Baleen Basket
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Coiled Baleen Basket Detail
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Bent Baleen Vessel
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Bent Baleen Vessel Detail
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Single Baleen Plate
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Single Baleen Plate Detail
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View the entire gallery or click on the above images to enlarge.

Baleen, also known as “whalebone,” is a tough keratinous substance from the mouths of filter-feeding whales. In texture, it is comparable to modern plastics, and has long been used by Native Arctic peoples to make buckets, cups, and other containers, ice scoops, sled runners, fish line, lashing, and nets.  Coiled baleen baskets represent a recent adaptation from traditional coiled willow-root baskets. They were first produced between 1914 and 1918, predominantly for a tourist market. Over time, distinctive styles have developed, and since the 1970s, more women have become involved in what was originally a predominantly male occupation.

The eight coiled baleen baskets in the Museum of Natural and Cultural History’s collections were made by Abe Simmonds, Joe Sikvayugak, and Nicholas Makalik, of Barrow, Alaska, and George Omnik, of Point Hope. Where known, dates are between 1954 and 1965. The baskets were purchased by Jack High and donated to the museum in 1968. Photography by Chris White, text by Pam Endzweig, and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.

Further Reading:

Lee, Molly.
1998    Baleen Basketry of the North Alaskan Eskimo. University of Washington Press, Seattle.