IACA Journal, Summer 2014 - page 12

IACA Journal | Summer 2014
In addition to these specific regional forms such as the fish
scale and potato basket, all four tribes made pack baskets. This
ancient form is still used today to carry everything from ice
fishing traps and hunting gear to firewood. Basketmakers made
pack baskets for sporting goods firms, such as Abercrombie and
Fitch, L. L. Bean, and the Old Town Canoe Company as well as
hampers, laundry, feather and mill baskets.
The hey-day of Maine Indian basketmaking was from the 1870s
to the 1930s. With the Depression and then World War II, bas-
ketmaking began to decline. In lieu of sweetgrass, basketmakers
began to use Hong Kong cord which could be purchased in
local stores. During this period, basketmakers also began to use
compound or puzzle molds.
Common forms made during this period
include tall cylindrical knitting baskets , a
wide variety of purse forms, and barrel shaped
waste baskets. Penobscot basketmakers created
decorative forms, such as splint covered
Depression glass vases and jar basket woven
over brown glass B & M baked beans jars.
By the 1960s fewer and fewer individuals in Wabanaki commu-
nities made baskets and this trend continued until the founding
of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance in the 1990s which
fostered a revival in the tradition.
Today, contemporary basketmakers express concern about the
perpetuation of brown ash and sweetgrass basketry. Access to
basket trees is increasingly limited as new attitudes towards land
ownership limit access to the brown ash and sweetgrass.
Maine’s climate is changing—a factor which effects the health of
brown ash trees. A new threat, the Emerald Ash Borer, an inva-
sive insect species from Asia, threatens to decimate all species
of ash. Yet, like their ancestors, contemporary basketmakers
are adapting to these threats and the tradition will continue to
evolve, just as it has since the beginning of time.
Photos left, top to bottom: Penobscot Button Basket by Camilla
Lyons Sockalexis c. 1930. This is one of a set of baskets for sewing
Shopper c. 1970. To preserve the color this basket was coated
with shellac.
Penobscot Jar Basket c. 1970.
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