American Native Arts and Antiques

Exceptional Current and Vintage Native American Arts

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Hearts and/or flowers grace items that are beaded or chip carved and are etched on birch bark containers by Wabanaki artists and tribes directly west of the Wabanaki lands. Floral designs are many centuries old and hearts are on items dating to the late 1700's. I don't know if there is research detailing the earliest known heart or flower, but some of the photographs here show examples of older heart/flower items as well as some current. Silver items made by English and French silversmith's in the late 1600's - early 1800's sometimes used hearts to decorate the silver trade items.

Baskets made by the Wabanaki tribes to hold sewing/crocheting/knitting/tatting/quilting materials and tools are and were numerous, these baskets were made in a variety of shapes and sizes from the 1860's through the 1940's. By 1880 sewing baskets made by the Maliseet, MicMac Passamaquoddy and Penobscot basketmakers in Maine and Eastern Canada were major part of their trade economy.

When the first European explorers arrived in the North American North East - birch bark was the predominate material used by the Wabanki. From wigmwams to canoes to moose calls to dolls to quivers to torches to drums to cradles to maple sugar sap kettles - the uses were many and birch bark items were pervasive, supplying items essential to daily living.

PHOTO DESCRIPTIONS: please click individual photo to see entire picture

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 Wabanaki Confederacy - the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy 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 this website was Passamaquoddy basketmaker, Clara Keezer.