Across Three Generations of Wabanaki Basket-Making
Innovation and Resilience Across Three Generations of Wabanaki Basket-Making
This exhibition highlights the dynamic tradition of Wabanaki basket-making, featuring the unique styles and designs of Abenaki,Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac artists. It brings historical baskets together with some of the finest examples of contemporary Wabanaki artistry. While the Wabanaki have been weaving baskets since time immemorial, when they were forced off their land under European colonization, basket-making became a means of economic independence and resistance to assimilation. Since the nineteenth century, Wabanaki artists innovated traditional utilitarian forms to meet collectors’ tastes, leading to a new style of basketmaking—fancy baskets.
While basket-making is a source of economic empowerment for Wabanaki communities, the art form remains a powerful avenue for individual artistic expression and a vehicle for sharing generational knowledge. In the recent past, artists such as Molly Neptune Parker H’15, Clara Neptune Keezer, and Fred Tomah have influenced other aspiring basket-makers, shaping the path of Wabanaki basket-making traditions for generations to come.
In addition to reconnecting with Indigenous forms of artistic and cultural expression, Wabanaki basket-makers have partnered with natural resource managers and forestry scientists to create the Ash Task Force. This initiative works to combat an invasive beetle called the emerald ash borer, which threatens the future of Wabanaki baskets’ primary material, brown ash. By protecting and promoting Indigenous artistry and culture, the process of de-colonizing Western and Eurocentric systems of knowledge has begun.
This exhibition was curated by members of the Native American Students Association: Amanda Cassano ’22, Sunshine Eaton ’22, and Shandiin Largo ’23. Assistance with translations provided by Dwayne Tomah, a member of the Passamaquoddy Nation. Supported by the Becker Fund for the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.