Black Ash woodsplint has been used as a basketry splint material for a very long time, a fact illustrated by this photographic image of this group of Mi'kmaq women with woodsplint baskets, taken circa 1890. No doubt this material was used by Northeast Native American basketmakers long before that because of its superior strength, flexibility, lustrous surface texture and native growth habit.
Once European settlers inhabited the Northeast, they learned to use this native material and established black ash splint basketry traditions of their own. Yankee basketmakers and Shakers used this material for many of their baskets.
Black Ash continues to be a basketry material of choice today for many of the same reasons it has been used historically. It is a remarkably supple and strong splint material even when it is subdivided into very thin splints. The fact that a growth ring can be split into single satin, or even delicate double satin splint makes this material adaptable to a wide variety of basket types from sturdy workbaskets all the way to the tiniest miniature baskets.
The Mi'kmaq Indians' tradition of making Black Ash baskets continues today in Lennox Island, Canada. Mic Mac First Nation Crafts offers a selection of hand crafted Ash Splint Baskets. The Black Ash is often combined with sweetgrass and frequently incorporates the curled embellishment of the periwinkle or porcupine design.
There is no way in this brief article to cover the subject of Black Ash baskets and the artists who weave them. This is a subject that you can be sure we will revisit often. If you know of material regarding black ash basketry not mentioned here, post your comment to the board or contact me.
Ash Baskets From American Native Downeast
Tools for Ash Splint Basketry
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