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Native Basket Maker and Fair 
At Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center  
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• Angela Barnes
• Paula Love Thorne
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Black Ash Baskets
Fraxinus nigra

Tucked in a quiet corner of Connecticut is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, which opened to the public on August 11, 1998. The first weekend of August 2001, the museum hosted the first annual Native Basket Makers Market and Fair. Native basket makers from around the northeast gathered for two days of basket sales, demonstrations, discussions and activities. Eighty-eight-year-old Katie Thompson (Akwesasne Mohawk) headed this distinguished group of basket makers that included Clara Keezer (Passamaquoddy), Jeanne Brink (Abenaki), Loretta Oxendine (Lumbee) and Paula Love Thorne (Penobscot).

Many makers offered their baskets for sale and demonstrated black ash woodsplint and sweetgrass basketry in a large sun-filled indoor courtyard. Birch bark, white oak and pine needle basketmaking were also demonstrated. Makers traveled from around the northeast. Many basketmakers came from Maine where black ash basketry is still widely practiced.

Additional activities took place outside under tents. Children were encouraged to weave paper baskets and use potato stamps to print traditional designs on their work. The methodic and melodic sound that is easily recognized by splint basketmakers everywhere rung out as Jesse LaRocque demonstrated the process of pounding a black ash log to release the woodsplints. The heat of the summer afternoon did not slow Jesse down as he pounded, scraped and split an armful of satiny splints.

The market and fair was a two day event, but the museum is also host to a magnificent exhibit of Pomo basketry, running until September 3, 2001. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is responsible for this traveling exhibit titled "Pomo Indian Basket Weavers, Their Baskets and the Art Market". It features more than 120 baskets, made a century ago by Native American weavers for the curio market. The exhibit focuses on a group of fifty Pomo Indian Basket Weavers who worked during the early years of the 20th century. It examines the market in which they sold their creations. The exhibition is drawn primarily from the Museum's unusually well-documented California Indian basket collections. A special issue of Expedition is available detailing these phenomenal baskets, the makers and the art market of the time. This exhibit is well worth taking a long drive to see.

Next page > Photo gallery of native basketmakers > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6



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