Artist Media Series
This is an exceptional baleen basket by Don Johnston (Aleut). Don was born in Ketchikan, Alaska. He apprenticed with James Omnik, Sr. a well-known baleen basket weaver. In the years since those first important lessons, Don has continued to improve and innovate his unique weaving style. For this piece, the entire basket is woven from baleen. For this piece, it is primarily black baleen with white used in addition on the lid and the area above the shoulder. Don has only made a few with the white baleen, as it is so rare. He says it only comes from an old female bowhead whale that is 65 years and older! The basket is woven with both the light and dark colorations of baleen. It is incredible the depth of coloration created in this piece and the tightness of the weave. The top of the lid is carved from fossilized ivory and it is his classic double whale tail. These tails have an asymmetry to the tips and both appear to be in motion! There is an elegant simplicity to his basket forms carvings. The lid should be removed by the edge, not the finial. There is always a locking lip on the bottom inside of the lid.” Simply exceptional! It is signed, “Don Johnston” and was made in 2022. We are pleased to have his work at both our galleries in Santa Fe and Scottsdale!
What is baleen?
Baleen plates have hair-like structures that filter out tiny floating organisms and fish and are found in the mouth these plankton-eating whales. Baleen was originally used for indigenous objects like water cups, buckets, and sleds. The Bowhead whale has been subsistence hunted by Alaska Coastal Natives, including the Yup’ik and Inupiat for over 1,000 years, and no part of the whale is ever wasted. A butchered bowhead whale can yield thousands of pounds of food. The community shares of meat and blubber are apportioned equitably to ensure that everyone benefits from a successful hunt.