The Collins Center for the Arts hosted the 18th annual Maine Indian Basketmakers Sale and Demonstration. The event is the largest gathering of Indian artists in New England and featured far more than baskets.
The event featured different artisans from the four Wabanaki tribes in Maine. The Wabanaki tribes include Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. Artisans from each of the tribes continue the traditions passed from generation to generation by continuing traditional art forms such as basket making, birch bark art, jewelry and dream catchers.
“The event started out slow in the morning because it was so icy,” said Jennifer Neptune, who works with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance. The event took off at 9 a.m. and was open and free to the public. Various scheduled events occurred throughout the day including basket making demonstrations and traditional Wabanaki singing and dancing.
When Neptune is not at events for the Basketmakers Alliance, she works to market and promote the work of the four tribes through the state. The Maine Basketmakers Alliance also has programs where people can get apprenticeships and learn the art of basket making or other Indian art forms. There are also workshops that are held during the year within the tribal community to promote and preserve the traditions of each of the tribes.
“Originally [the event] was just a basket sale,” said Gretchen Faulkner, director of the Hudson Museum in the Collins Center. Throughout the years the event has grown and attracted more people, and more Native American art forms were introduced to the mix as well as music and demonstrations.
Both Faulkner and Neptune were happy with Saturday’s outcome. “There was a good turnout,” said Neptune, also adding that there was an increase in artisans as well.
The traditions of the art form as well as the materials used have lasted throughout generations. Ash and sweetgrass are the traditional raw materials for basketmaking. Ash trees have a ring-porous quality that allows them to be pounded into splints for basket making. Unfortunately, there has been a recent threat to basket makers who use ash, due to an invasive species. The event also served as an opportunity to create awareness about the materials in danger, reported John Bear Mitchell, member of the Penobscot Nation on Indian Island in Maine and Associate Director of the Wabanaki Center.
Mitchell warned about the invasive species, saying it originated from China and is destroying the Ash trees. The species is a small beetle known as the emerald ash borer. This form of infestation causes trees to die over a period of years. Some damage is not detected until up to three years after the species takes over. The invasion of the Asian descendant not only harms the trees, it directly affects the artisans of the Wabanaki tribes if the material for basketmaking cannot be produced.
The researchers of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative are teaming up with the Wabanaki Center to research solutions for the emerald ash borer. The invasive beetle has killed millions of trees in the Midwest and in Canada and it is threatening Maine’s woods. The team of researchers and native Americans hopes to prevent the beetle from harming Maine’s longest lasting traditions.