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May Artist of the Month - Pam Cunningham, Penobscot basketmaker

Pam oudusis Cunningham, Penobscot basketmaker, braiding sweetgrass
Large and small sewing baskets (many smaller sewing baskets inside)

Photos above are of Pam outdusis Cunningham braiding sweetgrass, her large and small sewing kit baskets, and her great-grandmother ssipsis selling her baskets c/1920.

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. She uses many of her great-grandmother's tools in making her baskets - ssipsis's splint gauges, crooked knives and basket molds. Pam's mother also goes by the name ssipsis.

Pam doesn't travel to national shows, preferring to stay at home with her husband and 2 teenage sons. Pam believes in keeping her tribal traditions alive, she has served on the Penobscot Indian Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Committee. She teaches basketry in the tribal elementary school as well as at the Penobscot tribal elder center. Pam gives of herself to her tribe and her community. She has worked on a local Habitat for Humanity house, is a Hospice volunteer and has given her hair to Locks of Love which provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 18 suffering from long-term medical conditions such as cancer treatment resulting in hair loss - and so much more. Pam outdusis Cunningham is a wise pillar of strength for her family, her tribe, her community and humanity at large. (And she has an outrageous and awesome sense of humor too!)

go to the "contact us page" to inquire about ordering either the large or small sewing basket kit shown above. These sewing basket kits are based on ones Pam's grandmother ssipsis made. The large sewing basket includes curly-cue pin cushion, needle case, thimble and thimble basket, scissors and basket case, curly-cue button basket, thread basket and basket turtle to honor of mother earth for the materials used to create this basket. Smudged with a small prayer braid which is also included. The small sewing basket curly-cue pincushion, needle case, scissors and case, thimble basket, turtle, and Sweetgrass prayer braid - Pam will have your order done in 3-6 weeks. She is one of the few basketmakers who will make specific baskets to order and she is very punctual and responsible about filling those orders

The following is a short biography written by Pam herself

"I am a Penobscot Indian Master Basket Weaver.

My mother, ssipsis, is full blooded Penobscot Indian (a federally recognized Tribe) and my father was half Irish and half English. I am 50% Penobscot, 25% Irish and 25% English.

I am Penobscot, of the Turtle clan. I was raised since birth on Oak Hill, Indian Island, Maine, USA. The same hill my mom was born on. It was there that I was given my Penobscot name outdusis (little pathway). Looking for a short cut to my friend's home, I spent all morning walking back and forth from my house to my friend's making a little pathway.

I love every aspect, every step of my basket making. I relish the fact that, in most ways, I am following in the footsteps of my ancestors. Many of the oldest and simplest traditions continue, from splitting and gauging fiber from the ash tree, to hand weaving each basket, to picking sweetgrass and then braiding it, for weaving into my baskets. Traditional and contemporary baskets, berry baskets, collector baskets, and originals like the sweetgrass flats.

I spend my time making baskets within walking distance of the river that surrounds Indian Island, Maine. There is a strong connection between the Penobscot River and my people, Wabanaki, who use the brown ash and sweetgrass that grow along the riverbanks in honor of this relationship.

The brown ash used to make my fancy baskets is hand selected and harvested in the North Maine Woods. By stripping the bark and pounding the trunk until the growth rings can be pulled off in long splints. I split, scrape and gauge these splints into weavers, standards and points used to make my baskets. I hand pick the sweetgrass, blade by blade along the coast of Maine. Then soak the dried grass and finely braid three strands together locking in other strands to achieve the continuous braid.

These baskets symbolize my desire to keep native traditions and culture alive."