This article contains additional reporting by Jaedyn Young.
UNR’s University Libraries is expanding its Virtual Museum of Native American Basketry project today with the opening of a new VR kiosk at the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center in Nixon.
The “virtual museum” is a collection of 3D scans of 100+ baskets by weavers from more than 25 Indigenous tribes. Users can wander through a museum that only exists digitally and virtually “pick up” baskets, turn them over, and inspect them from all angles.
Billie Jean Guerrero, director of the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center, explained the importance of basketry to local tribes: “Baskets were created to use in gathering, whether it were seeds or berries, pine nuts—those are all food sources that helped us survive for thousands of years,” she said. “The women also wore basket hats as a way to keep from overheating.”
A lot of time, prayer, and skill goes into making a basket, Guerrero said. “It’s not like you can just pick it up right away. It takes years of practicing. It takes years of gathering materials, and then just learning from others. I think promoting that art is very, very important because, as time goes on, our number of basket weavers seems to dwindle.”
This project isn’t the museum’s first foray into VR programming. From 2017 until this year, the museum—situated on the tribal land that some 80,000 Burners drive through each year—hosted a VR Burning Man installation. That project was created by the UNR libraries’ digital media team, a group that often seeks out new uses for its expanding VR capabilities.
“We were trying to find a way to do 3D digital preservation projects,” said Luka Starmer, a multimedia specialist at UNR (who is also a Double Scoop contributor). “We had experimented with other Indigenous objects like petroglyph stones. Billie Jean pointed out that this would be really cool for something like basketry.”
To create the basketry VR collection, the digital media team worked with UNR’s Anthropology Research Museum, home to a large collection of historical baskets. Several other institutions collaborated as well, including a couple that could provide items by artists we know by name. The Nevada Historical Society lent access to baskets by Northern Nevada’s best-known 19th-and-20th-century Washoe weaver, Dat So La Lee, and the Nevada State Museum provided access to works by the contemporary Paiute-Shoshone artist Rebecca Eagle.
The opening reception for the new Virtual Museum of Native American Basketry kiosk is today, Nov.10, from 1-3 pm at the Pyramid Lake Museum and Visitors Center, 709 State St., Nixon.
The Virtual Museum of Native American Basketry can also be accessed at University Libraries’ @One Digital Media & Technology on the first floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center.
Viewers with a SteamVR-ready virtual reality headset can download the virtual museum here.
Viewers without a VR headset can view and “handle” the baskets digitally here.
This article was funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.