The Sutter County Museum in Yuba City recently introduced its newest exhibit, “Unbroken Traditions,” from the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology at California State University, Chico.
This exhibit features around 30 handmade baskets woven by four generations of mountain Maidu women. These basketweavers hail from the Meadows-Baker Family in Northern California and those included in the display were loaned to the Sutter County Museum by the Kurtz family.
The exhibit will be open to the public free of charge during regular business hours until May 21. Last Friday, a special exhibit reception was held. In attendance was Mike Hubbartt, an author and longtime member of the board of directors for both Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes and the Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust.
“This was the biggest learning curve for me when I got into this,” said Hubbartt in reference to his awareness of native culture and sensitivity to their history. “I worked for about 16 years for California state parks up in Oroville and my job up there was to interpret Native American cultural history.”
During his work, Hubbartt was in contact with a local collection of baskets at a museum in Oroville. He had the privilege of meeting with some of the basket makers and their descendants, the memory of which still moves him to tears.
“I met a young woman, and there was a basket in our museum and she says, ‘I had this basket tattooed on my body,’ because the basket was taken away from her family and she didn't want to ever lose it again,” explained Hubbartt, choking back his emotion. “What you get is a deep, deep, deep sense of cultural history and connection to the land and the environment. … They haven't given it up.”
Molly Bloom, the museum’s director and curator, said she appreciated the vast variety of baskets on display and learning about the different uses and weaving techniques. From water tight weaves to aerated acorn dryers and fashionable pieces that doubled as both a hat and bowl, native basketry displays the ingenuity and creativity of indigenous peoples and their ability to thrive in tandem with the land.
Some weaving patterns were said to depict emotions or stories intrinsic to the tribe, family, or basket maker themself. Out of respect for native culture, the exhibit omitted the interpretation and meaning behind these designs but the craftsmanship was free to be admired.
“I’ve run into issues now where I try to share native stories and teach people about the history and I’m told, ‘Mike that’s not yours to tell,’” said Hubbartt. “So again, it's a learning curve because I do want to teach people and keep these things alive but we have to balance that with reverence for their culture.”
The Sutter County Museum is located at 1333 Butte House Rd. in Yuba City. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and weekends from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, visit suttercountymuseum.org.
On March 16, the museum will be hosting a special speaker series event with Hubbartt called “Secrets of the Sutter Buttes.” The event is free and will run from 5:45-7 p.m.