Early Seminoles made traditional baskets from split saw palmetto stems, but introduced sweetgrass baskets in the early 20th century to sell for extra income. Paul Billie, a well-known Seminole painter, made this basket featuring triangular step designs unique to the Museum’s collection.
This is an unusual basket. It was donated to us by Keith and Sara Reeves. One of our former students, Austin Bell – he’s now curator of the Marco Island Historical Museum – studied this basket in detail and he proposed that it was the work of a Seminole artist named Paul Billie. Now Paul Billie was best-known as a painter and his paintings are very striking and detailed, but he did experiment freely with other media and one of those was basketry.
Now, making baskets is traditionally a woman’s art, so that Paul Billie made it was unusual. Early on, utilitarian baskets were made from split cane or palmetto stems, but later some were made of tight bundles of pine needles. And still later sweetgrass become a really popular medium for the Seminoles. But this basket of Paul Billie’s used a combination of pine needles and sweetgrass. Also, it features triangular step designs which are very unusual in Seminole work. So this basket is not only beautifully made, but it’s unusual in several ways and we are privileged to have it in our collection.
Curator, South Florida Archaeology & Ethnography
Director, Randell Research Center
Florida Museum of Natural History
Coiled Sweetgrass Basket
Made by artist Paul Billie, Seminole, South Florida
Dates to ~1970–1990