Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet tribes of Maine are known
as the Wabanaki Indians, or "People of the Dawn." They are known for their
baskets that they weave with the leaves of sweet grass and thin strips of
an ash tree (splints). These Indian tribes share a common story that tells
how their ancestors emerged from an ash tree when the Creator split it with
an arrow. So, for thousands of years, they have used ash splints to make
baskets for both personal and community use. Today, many people collect
them as beautiful works of art.
Wabanaki Basketry, A Local Legacy
The baskets fall into two categories: work baskets, which are used for gathering, storing, and transporting goods, and fancy baskets, ones that are crafted for the public, with decorative designs. Intricate shapes and designs and bold colors are used to make woven handkerchief baskets, powder-puff holders, purses, vases, wastebaskets, thimble baskets, candy dishes, knitting baskets, cradles, and fans.
Mary Mitchell Gabriel, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, has spent more than 60 years perfecting the art of basket making. She is working to preserve this important cultural tradition by teaching her two daughters how to make the baskets. She is also teaching others through the Maine Cooperative Extension Service and the Maine Basketmakers Alliance.