This tiny basket is a perfect miniature version of a Navajo water bottle, known as a Tus. This basket is coated with pine pitch to allow the basket wave pattern to show through.
Navajo Pitch pot is the Navajo water bottle. It is generally made from wicker, although sumac may be used as well. They are called Tqoshje, probably a contraction of tqo, water, and yishje, it is sealed with melted pinon or pine pitch to make it water tight. These bottles are made of sumac, willow, or other pliable twigs, in the shape of a large vase with a rounded bottom, a globular body, and a long, narrow neck with a flaring rim. A small loop of plaited horsehair is woven into the jar at either side. An awl is the only instrument used, and no particular care is taken to weave very closely, as the jar is rendered water-tight by a covering of pine or pinon gum over the whole inner and outer surface. The pitch is heated and poured into the jar, and by turning and twisting it around, the pitch is brought in contact with the whole inner surface, after which the surplus pitch is poured off. A heated pebble is then thrown inside and vigorously shaken, which is said to remove any hardened lumps, and gives the interior a smooth surface. The exterior, too, is now covered with gum, which in addition is daubed with red clay to obtain a reddish hue. Any unevenness is then removed from the surface by pressing a heated pebble over it. These jars have no lid, but a bunch of grass or sage bark is stuffed into the neck of the jar to prevent the water from splashing out. A cord or rope attached to the loops on the sides of the jar is slipped over the shoulders, or across the forehead, with the jar resting on the small of the cask, so that it can be conveniently carried in this manner for a considerable distance. Large water jars can hold up to two gallons.
Adapted from information from: Handbook of North American Indians by the Government Printing Office
Provenance: Purchased at Santa Fe Indian Market in 1984 by my mother for her private collection.
Recommended Reading: Indian Baskets of the Southwest by Clara Lee Tanner.