Clara Neptune Keezer, 2002 NEA National Heritage Fellow
Clara Neptune Keezer was born on the Passamaquoddy tribal land of Pleasant Point (Sipayik) in Perry, Maine. Born August 3rd, 1930, Clara passed away August 2nd, 2016. The Neptune family was known for basketmaking and for leading the Passamaquoddy tribe for more than 200 uninterrupted years prior to her birth. Clara Neptune learned to make baskets from her grandmother and mother, weaving her first basket at the age of eight. She worked with the preferred materials of Maine basketweavers, split brown ash and sweetgrass, to fashion both utility and fancy baskets. Although basketweaving was experiencing a decline in Maine in the 1950s, Keezer became involved in the revitalization of the basketweaving tradition. Not content to replicate old forms exclusively, she began building on the tradition of the strawberry basket. Her baskets appeared in many touring exhibitions, including the influential Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art 1965-85. Ralph T. Coe, curator of that exhibit, said "Clara Keezer is the finest splint craftswoman I met in the Northeast." Today, she continues basketweaving and teaching young people her skills. She has made innovations to the strawberry basket tradition, weaving a cornucopia of brightly colored vegetable and fruit baskets that have become popular among community members, as well as museums and basket collectors.
Clara said she couldn't imagine not making baskets, she continued to practice her craft through a variety of physical aliments and accidents including a broken arm, diabetes, carpel tunnel syndrome and COPD which required the use of oxygen frequently. She has inspired and mentored numerous younger basketmakers including her sons and most recently her niece who continue to make exquisite baskets in the Neptune tradition.