A large, coiled bottleneck basket sourced to Sinforosa Fustero. Juncus and sumac (Rhus trilobata) on a grass bundle foundation (probably Muhlenbergia rigens).
Coiling direction is to the right; fag ends (starting end of the weft stitch) are clipped.
Sinforosa Fustero was the last Tataviam weaver (and speaker). She was born July 17, 1834, at San Fernando Mission, to Crisanta (of Tejon), who was Kitanemuk, and Narciso (of Piru), who
was Tataviam. Sinforosa spoke both languages. As an elderly woman she lived in Newhall. She died either in 1912 or 1915, depending on the source.
This basket and two others were donated to the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society by Irene (Ruiz) McKibben, who said her mother
obtained them from Sinforosa. Evidently Sinforosa collected baskets, as did many other weavers.
The three baskets are a single-rod Washoe bowl from the Lake Tahoe area that Sinforosa did not make;
a small Pima (Akimel O'odham) bowl from Arizona, which Sinforosa did not make; and this one.
Birth at San Fernando Mission and later habitation in the Piru area and Newhall exposed Sinforosa to several different cultures in addition to the two of her parents. It is entirely possible
she made this basket because, diagnostically, this basket shouldn't exist. It doesn't represent one single indigenous culture; it reflects a mixture of cultures.
The design, which is really the least important feature diagnostically, is distinctively Kern River or central-eastern California desert, i.e, Yokuts-Tübatulabal-Kawaiisu-Panamint Shoshone.
Weaving is always passed down from the grandmother or a great aunt; Sinforosa's maternal grandmother, Georgia, was born about 1771 at Tumijaivit Village, which location is uncertain, but her
maternal grandfather, Georgio, hailed from the Elizabeth Lake area. There were both Tataviam and Kitanemuk (and Serrano) villages in the Elizabeth Lake area. Bearing in mind that Sinforosa's
mother spoke Kitanemuk, it is likely her mother's mother was Kitanemuk. If Sinforosa made this basket, the design might reflect her maternal grandmother's Kitanemuk influence.
The form — the bottleneck shape — is not attributable to any one culture. It is commonly seen among Chumash, Yokuts, Kitanemuk, Tübatulabal and Kawaiisu basketry. Just because we've
never seen a Tatviam bottleneck basket doesn't mean one couldn't exist. There are too few confirmed Tataviam baskets of any kind in existence to know.
The weft materials, juncus and sumac, are consistent for the Tataviam area, as well as Chumash to the east and Tongva to the south. Juncus and sumac also were used by the Kitanemuk, at least in the
Elizabeth Lake-southwestern Antelope Valley area (although not at Tejon).
The grass bundle foundation is to be expected for Tataviam weaving. It is distinctively not Chumash. Chumash weavers used/use a 3-rod juncus foundation. (Asterisk: Some cave-find Chumash baskets from hundreds of years ago — which this one is not — used a grass bundle foundation.)
The clipped fag ends are not a Tataviam characteristic, at least not in terms of what is known from the small number of Tataviam baskets in existence, and what is expected for the area.
Clipped fag ends are a Chumash characteristic, as well as the Tejon and Mojave Desert regions. Clipped fag ends are unknown east of Ventura/Santa Paula and south of Tejon. If Tataviam, the fag
ends should be "bound under" — as are the fag ends of all baskets from the Santa Clarita-southwestern Antelope Valley on the north to northern Baja, California, on the south.
Given Sinforosa's mixed parentage and her exposure to and interaction with weavers from other indigenous cultural backgrounds, it is possible that Sinforosa made this cultural mishmash of a basket.
But considering she also possessed other baskets that she did not make, it is possible she received
it as a gift. It is likely we will never know.
When it comes to Native American basketry — woven bowls, baskets, trays, water bottles, etc. — none is rarer than basketry made by Tataviam people of the Santa Clarita Valley.
As of 2018, no basketry from any era can be irrefutably attributed to a specific Tataviam individual (known by name). The closest we come is Sinforosa Fustero, the last Tataviam weaver (and speaker), who died either in 1912 or 1915, depending on the source. Three baskets in the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society collection are sourced to Sinforosa; two of them she might have collected but did not make (one from the Lake Tahoe area, the other from Arizona), and the third is of uncertain origin. It's possible she made it.
A small number of baskets, perhaps a few dozen, in private and public collections were made by known and unknown weavers in bordering areas where Tataviam individuals lived alongside people from other indigenous cultural and linguistic backgrounds (San Fernando Valley, Fillmore-Santa Paula, Tejon). The known-by-name weavers weren't Tataviam, and no unattributed basket from the borderland is recognized as distinctively Tataviam.
As of 2018, all 100-percent certified Tataviam basketry is archaeological, and all was made prior to the end of the Spanish Mission period in the 1820s.
By "all" we mean a dozen specimens. Twelve. Twelve for-sure Tataviam basketry items are known today. (We repeat "as of 2018" because new discoveries continue to be made.) The "Tataviam Twelve" are:
* The nine storage baskets, bowls, hoppers and trays in the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. They were found by boy ranchers in 1884 in a small cache cave high up a mountainside near present-day Val Verde. They were purchased shortly thereafter by Stephen Bowers, who was collecting native California cultural materials for the Peabody. The materials, including sacred ceremonial items, were secreted in the cave — with the intent of later recovery (never effected) — most likely in 1802 or 1811, the years in which Spanish soldiers raided the local Tataviam villages and brought their inhabitants to the San Fernando Mission. Today the cave, known as Bowers Cave, is on the grounds of the Chiquita Canyon Landfill. It is not covered in garbage and probably never will be, considering its elevation. The cave has been excavated several times and is devoid of any cultural materials.
All "Bowers Cave" basketry is coiled with a juncus weft on a deergrass bundle foundation (Muhlenbergia rigens), although three specimens alternate a deergrass foundation with a 3-rod juncus foundation, which is typically a Chumash characteristic. Two basketry items additionally use sumac (Rhus trilobata) as a weft material. The coiling direction is to the right, and the fag ends (the starting end of the weft stitch) are bound under. Rims are self-rims (or missing) except for one specimen with some plain wrapping. Only one basket has any decoration; it is encircled by "block-step" designs that are visible on the interior and exterior and are made of (mud-)dyed juncus.
These are important diagnostic markers which are perhaps more helpful in identifying what isn't Tataviam than what is, because, other than the occasional 3-rod foundation, these traits are common to almost all basketry from the so-called "mission" region that stretches from the Santa Clarita Valley-southern Antelope Valley, on the north, to northern Baja, Mexico, on the south. Thus, the corollary: If it's a coiled basket and it doesn't have these characteristics, then it's not Tataviam. Then again, if it's a juncus basket with bound-under fag ends on a 3-rod foundation, it's highly likely to be Tataviam. (Please contact us immediately if you find such a thing.) As for the form and function of the storage baskets, bowls, trays and hoppers, they're not distinctive. The shapes and uses are fairly standard throughout the Southwest.
* This twined water bottle from Piru Creek, which resides in the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Collected by Richard F. Van Valkenburgh in the 1930s, it is diagonally twined (up to the right) with juncus wefts on juncus warps, coated in asphaltum (local tar) for waterproofing.
* A plain-twined basketry fragment from Piru Canyon, with an asphaltum coating, in the L.A. County Natural History Museum collection. Possibly also collected by Van Valkenburgh in the 1930s. On display at the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.
* This 7-inch-diameter coiled basketry fragment found in the 1970s in a rock shelter (small cave-like feature) at Vasquez Rocks. Round and flat, it was probably the base to a long-disintegrated storage basket. (Vegetal material doesn't survive outside of caves, and sometimes not even then.) Like the Bowers Cave material, it coils to the right with juncus wefts on a deergrass foundation and bound-under fag ends. Privately owned by Roger Basham, retired chair of the Anthropology Department at College of the Canyons, as of April 2018 it is being placed on loan to the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation for safekeeping and display in the Interpretive Center at Vasquez Rocks — from whence it came.