Molly Neptune Parker, Passamaquoddy basketmaker, is a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award.
The fellowships are the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, and include a one-time award of $25,000. This year’s nine recipients are masters of diverse traditional art forms. Past honorees include musicians BB King, Bill Monroe, and cowboy poet, Willy McRae. Since 1982, the Arts Endowment has awarded 368 NEA National Heritage Fellowships. Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers. This year the panel reviewed 200 nominations for the nine fellowships. The ratio of winners to nominees indicates the select nature of this national honor.
"Basketmaking for me is about innovation and creativity within the context of a traditional art form," said basketmaker and 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellow Molly Neptune Parker. The same words apply to all recipients of the 2012 NEA National Heritage Fellows, which recognizes folk and traditional artists for their artistic excellence and efforts to conserve America’s culture for future generations.
Born in Indian Township, Passamaquoddy reservation, Maine, in 1939, Molly Neptune Parker is part of a family of basketmakers; her mother, grandmother, and aunts all made baskets. While the men in her family would harvest and pound the ash used for basketmaking, the women would strip the ash and split it to the correct thickness -- fine ash for fancy baskets and thicker ash for work baskets. In the Passamaquoddy tradition, families would have signature designs that were passed down. Parker continues to make baskets with ash flowers fashioned on the top, a design her mother and grandmother used.
Parker is known for her fancy baskets, featuring intricate weaving techniques, such as her signature creation, the acorn-shaped basket. Basketmaking supports her livelihood, and has allowed her to buy a home and help pay for the education of her grandchildren, who are also carrying on this craft. A true tradition bearer, Parker continues her own efforts to preserve the basketmaking tradition among her community in the Passamaquoddy Tribe, including mentoring her grandson Geo Neptune who has won many prizes for his work.