My name is Barbara D. Francis. I am a Master Basket maker from the Penobscot Nation.
My reservation, Indian Island, one of the oldest Indian communities, is located in the
Penobscot river, northeast of Bangor, Maine. This is where I was born and raised until
my teenage years, when I went to live in Vermont.
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. Below is a self loading
Slideshow of brown ash being prepared for baskets.
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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. I have cut back on
local shows in order to provide a more permanent impression of our artistry and
to eliminate the feeling of competition amongst other talented basket makers. I did
not feel like I could accomplish my goal by stepping on the backs of others, so I
ventured beyond the local markets. Many of you have had the pleasure of meeting my
apprentice, Carole. We have worked together for two years and will continue to do so
as she learns all about Brown Ash basketry. Her work is featured here on the web site.
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 unbraided grass. Some will be soaked
and then braided into 100 yard skeins, to be used in decorating fancy baskets.
The baskets shown here are just a few from my collection. Please feel free to contact
through my "E-mail" link below. Make a note of what basket you are inquiring about
and I will give you a price for it. I ship my work by First Class mail at no charge to
you. Thank you for your interest in Brown Ash basketry. These baskets are hand
made and they move quickly but, I am able to do special orders. I would not be able to
supply store owners in large quantities but, you are welcome to inquire and I am
sure we can work something out.
If you are visiting Bangor, Maine by way of the airport, be sure to see the display of
Indian baskets at the Bangor International Airport. This display is presented by the
Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, a group of which I am a member. The
Abbe Museum is also a fine resource for basketry information, to view collections as
well as purchasing baskets.Your comments are welcomed and there is a guestbook
link on the Index/Home page. Check back as I am adding new items to my display.
Woli woni! (Thank you)