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Jewelry by K.Nelson
Penobscot Basket Maker - Reviewed by Carol Toner, ME Studies, Univ. of ME, 2003.
In his latest film, "Penobscot Basket Maker", filmmaker Jim Sharkey has produced
a beautiful documentary that weaves together the life and artistry of Indian Island's
renowned basket maker, Barbara Francis. Displaying his skills in both filming and
editing, Sharkey presents Francis's work and her story with great sensitivity and
Barbara Francis's baskets have won honors at nationally recognized Indian art
shows, including Best of Show at the Lawrence Indian Art Show (1999) and 1st Place
in the 81st Annual Santa Fe Indian Market (2002). Displayed in many museums and
galleries, her baskets are remarkable pieces of art that reflect the long history of
Penobscot basket making. As Sharkey's film illustrates, her baskets also
reflect Francis's own history.
Born and raised on Indian Island, Barbara Francis left home as a teenager only to
face poverty and racism. When she returned to the island - alone, pregnant and
destitute - two older Penobscot women offered to take her in. They taught her to
make baskets, and at the same time they taught her about her heritage. These
women, and later her grandmother and other women, shared their skills with
Barbara, passing along the distinctive Penobscot basket styles. While basket
making became her life's work, it also brought her a deeper appreciation for
Penobscot history and culture.
Barbara narrates her life story while weaving her baskets, stopping to explain the
fine points of basketry - choosing just the right pieces of brown ash, alternating
light and dark shades of ash, weaving in a few rows of sweetgrass to make the
basket unique, and finally working in the fancy porcupine weave. Although the
baskets appear empty, she explains, they are full of history, tradition, culture and
spirituality. She points out the 'circle of life' created by the weave in the bottom of
basket. Just as her elders taught her how to make baskets, she is teaching the
next generation. It is her contribution to preserving the Penobscot Nation's culture.
Jim Sharkey has captured the remarkable beauty of the baskets and Barbara's
philosophical musings while also providing something of a larger historical
context through many still photos of Indian Island. His occasional use of Hawk
Henries exquisite Native American flute sound provides a lovely musical
accompaniment. It is Sharkey's attention to fine detail that elevates this film. For
example he focuses on the persistent sound of pounding as Barbara's husband
Marty prepare the ash, and then on the humming sound created as Barbara
quickly braids sweet grass stretched on the back of a chair. Like the baskets
themselves, the film is a carefully crafted piece that will help preserve the art
of Penobscot basket making.
More reviews are available at www.folkfilms.com
References to my basketryMaine State Museum for permanent display 11/20/1997 Penobscot Times Article 11/1997