Marion Steinbach pursued a wide variety of interests throughout her lifetime. She was greatly influenced by her mother and father, Margaret and Emil Schlichtmann, who were collectors of antiques, art, and historical documents. Many of their acquisitions were donated to Yosemite Park Museum and Bancroft Library. Her mother was an accomplished painter of botanical watercolors as well as an author of books on California history. For her family, learning, creating and collecting were a way of life.
Marion received a Bachelor’s degree in Decorative Arts, with a minor in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. Marion loved anything that had to do with nature—the study of which inspired her collections. Her artistic talents were displayed through her watercolor painting, and crafting with a wide variety of materials. She followed her mother’s interest in drawing and painting flowers, by illustrating the native plant guide, Wildflower Walking in Lakes Basin, by Toni Fauver.
Marion’s attraction to Indian basketry started as far back as the age of sixteen, when she purchased her first basket from a weaver in Lee Vining, California. While in her forties, the hobby of collecting basketry truly emerged. She was interested in all aspects of basket making, from materials and intricate craftsmanship, to their role in Native American culture and passing of traditions. What began as a hobby slowly turned into a fine collection. She became a dealer and expert in northern California basket as she studied, bought, sold, and traded. Sometimes she bought an entire collection, just to get one basket.
Desire for knowledge about the art of basket weaving sent Marion looking for the few Indian women who were weaving fine baskets using traditional methods. Trips to remote areas frequently led to an afternoon sitting under a big shady oak tree, visiting with a weaver. Marion cultivated relationships with these women, and would sit with her notebook and pencil, taking meticulous notes, trying to learn as much as she could about this art. Her fear was that one day, these older women of great skill would be gone and fine basket making would become a lost art. Sharing her classes, talking with others and showing her baskets gave Marion much pleasure.
Before Marion passed away in 1991, she had amassed a world class collection of baskets, pottery, artifacts, clothing, jewelry, and dolls. Along with her collection were extensive notes about the baskets. The collection was her treasure that she wanted to share with others. Her wish was that the baskets remain together as a single collection, and that all of them would be on display at the same time. After her passing, her husband Hank worked with the North Tahoe Historical Society to ensure the completion of Marion’s dream with the construction of the Marion Steinbach Indian Basket Museum to house her collection.