The Ramona Basket is the most important Cahuilla artifact in Southern California, says Michael Hammond, executive director of Agua Caliente Cultural Museum in Palm Springs. Ramona Lubo, a Cahuilla weaver who died in 1922, inspired novels and plays with her soap-operatic story of unyielding love for her family. She made the basket in 1883 while grieving the murder of her husband, Juan Diego. The star symbolizes Diego in heaven and the three crosses her and their two children. The roundness represents unity in afterlife. In 1920, the Smithsonian tried to purchase it for $1,800. Today, it’s priceless.
Rat Catcher of Hamelin IV (2011) seen at left, is the fourth section of a four-panel painting that Mark Bradford created for the Istanbul Biennial. Now in the collection of Palm Springs Art Museum, the painting is based on 50 billboards intended to gain the public’s help in gathering information about a serial killer in South Central Los Angeles. The canvas responds to how the LAPD eschewed the privacy of the killer’s victims — all African American women. Bradford collected the billboards as the basis for the layers of the collage. Through sanding and stripping, he obscures and reveals the narrative subtext in abstract fashion. The title of the painting references the legend of the Pied Piper, who was betrayed by the citizens of Hamelin after ridding their town of rats and took his revenge by stealing their children.