Three baskets in the Wylie House Museum collection

In 1914, Rebecca Grace Wylie (Reba) and Laurence Seabrook Wylie (granddaughter and grandson of Theophilus Adam Wylie) were residing in Indian Oasis, Arizona, to the southwest of Tucson, within the Tohono O’odham (previously known as the Papago) Indian Reservation. On January 22, Reba wrote a letter to her Aunt Louisa Wylie Boisen in Bloomington, indicating Laurence’s interest in purchasing the Lynehurst Ranch chicken farm. By April they were residing at Lynehurst Ranch. According to Reba, the ranch was located 12 miles from Tucson near the Santa Catalina Mountains which are to the northeast of Tucson, near the Gila River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. In other letters, Reba mentions the Native-made baskets and she included the photo you see here in one of her letters home. We believe that the 12 baskets now in the Wylie House Museum collection were sent by Reba to her Aunt Louisa and cousin Marie Boisen Bradley as gifts.

Traditionally, the Pima (now known as the Akimel O’odham) and Papago created complex abstract geometric designs in their baskets. The baskets in the Wylie House collection do not reflect the traditional designs of the Papago and Pima. Rather they reflect the influence of traders and tourists on basket makers. Many of the baskets in the collection display human and animal motifs. The inclusion of these types of figural elements was a development of the early twentieth century. The small size of a number of these baskets can be attributed to the popularity of miniature baskets among tourists.

Based on physical proximity it would be easy to infer that the baskets were created by members of the Papago tribe. However, by the early twentieth century both tribes had commenced the practice of basket making for the purposes of supplying traders and tourists with souvenirs. This produced a number of changes in the style and form of the baskets being produced. Papago and Pima tribal members were known to purchase baskets from one another to sell in various markets. Therefore, without more extensive testing of materials it is difficult to determine which people created the baskets in the Wylie House Collection.

Reba Wylie with Native American girl and baskets, 1914