New Trinidad Museum exhibit looks at tobacco pipes, baskets

CATALOG This catalog accompanies the exhibit.
Submitted photo


Trinidad Museum presents a new exhibit, “Native American Tobacco Baskets and Tobacco Pipes From Northwestern California” curated by Ron Johnson, Humboldt State University art professor emeritus, and assisted by Coleen Kelley Marks, Alexandra Cox and Jill Mefford.  

The exhibit will run for one year and then transfer to Eureka’s Clarke Historical Museum. A stunning 68-page color catalogue written by Johnson and Marks accompanies the exhibit.  Johnson wrote in the catalogue:

“Indian tobacco in Northwestern California was almost invariably ‘Nicotiana bigelovii,’ of which there were three sub-species. This was the tall variety, often six feet high with white flowers. It was cultivated in gardens using burnt logs to create a stronger, more tasty smoking tobacco than the wild plant, which was not collected for fear it might be over a grave and have malevolent effects.”

Johnson continued: “It is well established that Native American tobacco was a major part of men’s daily lives through smoking in the sweat house, and prayers for good luck in hunting and gambling.  Likewise, it was central to doctoring, primarily by women suck-doctors, and was used in several ceremonies.  Honoring and respecting the natural world began with the First-Salmon Ceremony which Hupa, Karuk and Yurok tribes still practice. The pinnacle of ceremonies is the World Renewal Ceremony. California’s Northwestern Coast tribes are unique in having world renewal ceremonies, and this approach carries into everyday life in which there is no sharp separation, as most aspects of life have a spiritual dimension.”

“The tobacco basket was in earlier times the primary way to store and travel with Indian tobacco.  The lid is tried down with brain-tanned deer hide to keep the tobacco dry.” 

 “In general, great care is taken when weaving baskets, and in carving pipes.  The earliest tobacco baskets lacked overlay design, but beautiful design became increasingly characteristic of tobacco baskets, especially those woven to sell. In recent times, tobacco baskets have shifted to mark Native American identities and as protective charms. Indian tobacco was a vehicle to reach the first spirit beings and to assure one’s well-being through fixing and prayer.”

Approximately 48 objects are on view, including baskets and pipes from the Trinidad Museum Society collections, private collections, and loaned items from the Clarke Historical Museum.  

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