Paul St John, Mohawk works in so many mediums that it is impossible to categorize him as a "basketmaker" or a "beadworker" or a "dollmaker". Although he is all three, his work also includes moccasins, medicine bags of all description, porcupine quill work on leather and birchbark, painted clothing (think painted parfleche or painting on the inside of buffalo robes), moosehair and porcupine quill tufting, cradleboards, jewelry and there is more.
A brief outline: Maine Indians - the 4 tribes, their culture, their history and their rich arts tradition.
Porcupine quills were used by Northeastern Native Americans for decorative purposes prior to European contact. Many early explorers when describing the Indians they encountered in what is now Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Labrador mention the porcupine quillwork the Native Americans used as ornamentation. Porcupines are large rodents with defensive spines or quills on the body and tail. The quills stand up and come out easily when touched by an aggressor such as a dog or a bobcat.
PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture
I have known Pam outdusis Cunningham for about 20 years. When I first met her she was one of the few young Maine Indian basketmakers striving to keep the tradition alive. I believe much of the current Maine Indian basket revival is due to her success as a basketmaker. Pam has replicated older basket styles and has invented new basket forms. Her work is always technically excellent. Many of her baskets incorporate some of her spirituality.
Baskets have been made by Maine and Eastern Canadian basketmakers, members of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamoquoddy and Penobscot tribes, since prior to the arrival of Europeans. The four tribes are collectively called the Wabanaki. Their baskets are woven from primarily from brown ash, “the basket tree” which grows in swampy areas throughout the most northern Northeast. Often a grass found only in tidal marshes, Northeastern sweet grass, is added to the brown ash. This grass is either braided or used plain.
Of all the wood crafts and arts made by Maine Indians, one is unique to them; the art of chip carving. This is done by other cultures around the world, but I believe among Native Americans, only Maine's Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes utilized chip carving to decorate their tools. Root clubs are believed to be the first item to have been enhanced by chip carving. Root clubs too are unique to Maine tribes.
The first featured artist of the month is Passamaquoddy basketmaker, Clara Keezer.
Molly Neptune Parker, Passamaquoddy basketmaker, is a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award.