Desert craft through the eyes of Aranda\Lasch makes for an exhibition with a twist

Modern Art
An exhibition at Tucson's Museum of Modern Art puts a contemporary spin on traditional Tohono O’odham basket weaving.
(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch)

It takes some tactical skills to survive in the desert. Indigenous Native Americans of the Sonoran Desert, the Tohono O’odham people have had to acclimatise and adapt to their barren surroundings (which sweep from Arizona and the Gulf of California to Mexico) with a new approach to domestic design.

Fibre artist Terrol Dew Johnson is well versed to the wild ways of desert life. A basket craftsman since the age of ten, he has collaborated with New York and Tucson architects Benjamin Aranda and Chris Lasch of Aranda\Lasch over the past ten years, putting a contemporary spin on this native art. The results are currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson.

Desert craft

Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson's designs bring a modern bent to desert craft

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)

Entitled ‘Meeting the Clouds Halfway’, the exhibition is curated by Alexandra Cunningham Cameron. Comprising an array of baskets scattered around the neo-brutalist space, these reveal their experiments with the ritualistic process of coiling: a native practice that ‘starts with one central point around which a material is wound, spiralling outward and upward in concentric circles until structure is created’.

The resulting silhouettes are sinuous and intertwining, rendered in unusual desert materials including grass, fibrous tissue sinew and horsehair. These are set in juxtaposition with modern iterations in copper, painted steel and concrete.

Wire coil

In foreground, 'Wire Coil 01', and 'Seed Vault Sprayed Model'

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)

Described ‘a proposal for cross-cultural collaboration – blending centuries-old traditions with modern technologies and theory’, the installation also includes examples of Dew Johnson’s original rustic baskets, alongside clever maquettes by Aranda\Lasch, displaying the epic evolution of their investigations.

While at first glance the winding and poetic forms appear as a pattern of abstract artworks, looking closer reveals structures embodying conceptual tables or stools in rougher steel and concrete, an undeniable nod to how the craft articulated itself initially as functional design.

Wire coil and Form over function

Left, 'Wire Coil 05', by Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, 2016. Right, 'Form Over Function', by Terrol Dew Johnson, 2014

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)


Table, by Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, 2016

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)

Wire coil 03

'Wire Coil 03', by Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, 2016

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)

Gourd basket and Copper coil

Left, 'Gourd Basket', by Terrol Dew Johnson, 2015. Right, 'Copper Coil 01', by Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson, 2016

(Image credit: Aranda\Lasch and Terrol Dew Johnson)


’Meeting the Clouds Halfway’ is on view until 29 January 2017. For more information, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson website


Museum of Contemporary Art, Tucson
265 S Church Ave
Tucson AZ 85701


Sujata Burman is a writer and editor based in London, specialising in design and culture. She was Digital Design Editor at Wallpaper* before moving to her current role of Head of Content at London Design Festival and London Design Biennale where she is expanding the content offering of the showcases. Over the past decade, Sujata has written for global design and culture publications, and has been a speaker, moderator and judge for institutions and brands including RIBA, D&AD, Design Museum and Design Miami/. In 2019, she co-authored her first book, An Opinionated Guide to London Architecture, published by Hoxton Mini Press, which was driven by her aim to make the fields of design and architecture accessible to wider audiences.