The Southeastern Indian Basketry Database

The Williamson Museum

 The Williamson Museum at Northwestern State University was established by the late Professor George Williamson as a natural history museum for the Louisiana Normal School. In 1935, Williamson became curator and professor emeritus, and the museum was named in his honor. Housed in Guardia Hall, one of the oldest buildings at the oldest state college, the collections were lost in a disastrous fire in 1965. The present collections have developed since 1971, when the museum was re-constituted in Kyser Hall on the Northwestern State University campus at Natchitoches, Louisiana.

The original museum held Chitimacha and Choctaw basketry lost in the fire. The contemporary collections have replaced those and much more. A state and federal repository for archaeological collections, the museum also curates collections for the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana. The ethnographic collections now represent some 49 tribal entities from the southeast and Gulf Coast.

The present collections have been acquired though gifts or grants, as the Williamson Museum has no budget for purchasing collections. The present basketry collections are the product of the generosity of American Indian artisans and non-Indian collectors who have donated freely of their time and talents to the museum. At the core of these collections are those the late Miss Caroline Dormon and Mrs. King Rand acquired from the Chitimacha and Koasati in the l930s. Additionally, there is the extensive collection of the late Claude Medford Jr., which was made between the 1950s and the 1980s and contains material culture from the majority of the southern and eastern American Indian tribes. A more recent collection was donated by friends of Claude Medford, Harold and Marge Malmberg. That collection dates primarily to the 1970-1980s. This latter collection also contains fine examples of Claude Medford's basketry.

In 1971, the Williamson Museum along with the N.S.U. Anthropological Society began hosting an annual American Indian crafts day. Tribal artisans, especially the southeastern tribal artisans, are invited to come to the museum to sell their arts on the first Saturday in December. Basket Day, as it has come to be called, was designed by the N.S.U. students as a way to thank their American Indian mentors and friends. All profits go to the artisans, and there is a luncheon sponsored for the artisans and students. This event was among the earliest events to become part of that deeply rooted service-learning tradition at NSU. It is held annually on the first Saturday in December. Admission is free.

The collections at the Williamson Museum are available for study by reputable scholars and students, barring tribal restrictions about special or sacred items. The Williamson Museum is compliant with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and requires tribal consultation be demonstrated before scholars are allowed access to specific items or collections.

Those interested in the museum or collections are encouraged to contact curator, Dr. Hiram "Pete" Gregory; telephone (318) 357-4364. - H. F. “Pete” Gregory