Penobscot Traditional Art

Jewelry & Baskets with a contemporary design



This slide show shows elder, Martin Francis preparing a brown ash stick. He will peel the stick, pound it and then remove the loosened growth rings.

My name is Barbara D. Francis. I am a Master Basket maker from the Penobscot Nation, located outside of Old Town, Maine. The Penobscot reservation on Indian Island, is one of the oldest Indian communities found in Maine

My memories of baskets started when I was a young girl. Most of the elders were craftsmen and the basket makers were the largest of the group. You could hear the men as they pounded sticks of Brown Ash, loosening the growth rings so they could be peeled off the stick. These growth rings were then split and gauged into the various widths, such as standards, weavers, pointers and so on. Some of the darker wood (heart stock) was then dyed into different colors for markers to adorn the baskets. It was important to use as much as possible, since not every Brown Ash tree is basket worthy.

I learned the basics of basket making from two elder women but, I would not use the skill until years later when I moved back to Maine and worked with my grandmother. My history reflects a long line of basket makers. I come by this tradition as the next generation. My work has won awards in Native American art competitions and is currently exhibited in museums and galleries.

The basketry shown here, reflects the traditions of my Penobscot people. Many of my tribal customs have been lost for a variety of reasons. The obvious cause is that our elders are dying and we, the younger generation have not learned what is needed to carry on the practices. I am fortunate that basketry has a strong influence on me.

The biggest task would be finding a way to pass it on as not many are interested in learning this art form. This is where the art shows come into play. Taking a bold step forward I started competing in juried shows. With this decision, patrons of the arts have valued my work as collectible, thus preserving my basketry as well as educating others to the process of Brown Ash preparation/products.

Many of the fancy baskets are adorned with sweet grass. This is gathered in the summer, picked by hand , cleaned and then hung up to dry. Some will be stored for binding baskets and for covers that use un-braided grass. Some will be soaked and then braided into 100 yard skeins, to be used in decorating fancy baskets.