Skip Navigation

Collections - MF 164 Maine Pack Basket Makers

Number of Interviews: 8

Dates when interviews were conducted: 2010

Time period covered: twentieth century

Principal interviewers: Bill Mackowski

Finding aides: transcripts

Access restrictions: no restrictions on interviews; videos may not be copied

Description: Maine Pack-Basket Makers Tradition consists of eight transcribed interviews conducted by Bill Mackowski in 2010 with basket makers in several communities (5 hrs., 33 min.) involving Maine basket making techniques.  Themes include: how many years they produced baskets, how they first received information on making a basket, as well as collecting raw materials, the kinds of baskets they made and the tools they used to make them.  The collection includes description of the process of picking a good tree by the environmental conditions, the height and type of tree, as well as the treatment of the tree through forms of pounding, splitting, and weaving.  The collection includes audio interviews, transcripts, and 3 videos (V310 How to make an Adirondack Packbasket with Jack Leadley, V311 Basket Making by Lawrence Hurd, and V312 Ash Pounding by Bill Mackowski).

3673 Peter Neptune interviewed by Bill Mackowski in Pleasant Point, Maine (date of interview unknown). Neptune started making baskets when he was eight; at thirteen started his own business making scale baskets; Bill Altvater (age 69) started him with a small business; got basket mold from Altvater; worked with his family basket business until he decided to go out on his own; charged three dollars for a fish basket; stick of ash would cost four or five dollars; it used to take two or three dollars to pound it; now he can sell baskets for one-hundred and seventy dollars and his backpack for two-hundred and fifty; Bill Altvater’s son learned from Neptune; doesn’t get his own trees; he used to pound his own trees; uses blunt end of an ax; can peel off six or seven strips that are two or three inches wide at a time; score it then split it; scrape on one side; at least three poundings on a log; used brown and white ash; makes own gauges; clock-springs, soaks in bleach to clean it; straight weaving; keeper; makes handles; uses billets; got wood from New York; made over a thousand baskets; buys harnesses; uses fancy trim on some baskets, made candy baskets. Transcript: 24 pp

Recording: CD2190     50 minutes

3674 Fred Moores interviewed by Bill Mackowski on July 16, 2010 at Pleasant Point, Maine.  Moores is seventy-seven years old; learned basket making from his mother and from William Altvater; made utility baskets or scale baskets; baskets used to sell for two dollars and fifty cents or three dollars; family made commercial baskets; sportsmen mostly bought the baskets; also made fishing creels; gets wood from Aroostook County; smooth bark tells if it is good ash; pound nine inches in diameter; familiar with brown, green, white, and yellow ash; brings logs home to pound; fall best time for the trees to be cut down; uses flat axe; pound wood on ground; overlap hits; all by hand; about ten rings per pound; one good log equals eight or nine pack baskets; split his splints; scrape to one side after splitting; hand gauges; blade sharp on only one side; soaks the splint; soak brown strip of ash in bleach to make it white; use free hand and block; designed a mold by himself; continuous weave; use bucket knives; doesn’t treat his baskets; fifty-one years making baskets. Transcript: 28 pp

Recording:  CD2191    49 min

3675 Ralph Smith interviewed by Bill Mackowski on February 1, 2010 in Wilton, Maine.  Smith is a ninety-two year old pack basket and snowshoe maker, trapper, and woodsman.  He learned how to make pack baskets by himself; wet areas have best trees; can tell a good tree by growth rings; uses a notch to see; brings wood home to pound; worked with brown and white ash; no preference on when the trees should be cut; used machine to pound the trees; uses the whole log; as high as 6 layers a pound; two or three is more common; also made machine for gauging; splits them and scrapes them a little; uses a splitter; soaks splints; first basket he made was over seventy years ago; made a saw that can make three sizes of strips; continuous weave; harness made out of seat belts. Transcript: 14 pp

Recording:  CD2192     22 min

3676 Lawrence Hurd interviewed by Bill Mackowski on January 24, 2010 in Bangor, Maine.  Hurd is 98 years old and considered the dean of Maine basket makers. He grew up in Old Town; knew many of the Indians living on Indian Island; worked at Old Town Canoe Company; 1936 worked in woods for Penobscot Northern Fiber Company; then worked for Alan Comstock in Aurora, Maine; 1938 made first basket; Albert Nicola; Buddy Ranco; John Ranco; Charles Roundy; first basket he sold he received thirty three cents; different kinds of ash trees; only used brown ash; inclement bore; split his splints; pound tree in woods; technique for pounding; art of pounding; overlapping at highest point; kept records in a book of number of strips or layers from a tree every time he pounded; only pound three hours at a time; video of pounding; could tell who was pounding by the number of hits before he would take a break; processing of splints before making a basket; use of clock springs for gauges; made baskets in Millinocket when he worked at the mill; made baskets in Houlton, at Leonard’s Mills, and for sportsman shows; his baskets are valued highly by collectors; taught many people over the years to make baskets; Denny Larson; story about nearly drowning. Transcript: 23 pp

Recording:  CD2193    53 min

Video:  V311 DVD Basket Making by Lawrence Hurd

3677 Joe Bartlett interviewed by Bill Mackowski on January 27, 2010 in Lee, Maine.  Bartlett is eighty-four years old and has been making baskets for forty years; Bill Altvater taught him; 1972 first basket; got own trees; if the tree had rings it was a good tree to pound; best type of ash tree to use; ten foot tree has to be straight; only used brown ash; prefers to pound in spring; prefers to cut in winter; uses a cradle to pound; guide service sells his baskets; uses whole log; five or six layers come off at a time; splits ash; doesn’t treat the wood; splits free handed; makes two sizes of baskets small and big; doesn’t use continuous weave; uses wooden handles or “wooden leather”; uses polyester harnesses. Transcript: 17 pp

Recording:  CD2194      30 min

3678 Willard Tilton interviewed by Bill Mackowski on January 26, 2010 in Passadumkeag, Maine,  Tilton is 78 years old and was born in Mattawamkeag, Maine in 1933; taught children at a wilderness camp to make baskets; Tilton made over thirteen hundred baskets; uncle had machine pounder; taught himself; also did some trapping; where to find best trees; Molonkus Stream; checked rings and made a chip to make sure he got the right tree; he used a white maple for a basket once; uses a pole axe; scores logs out in the woods; location is what determines the colors of logs; scraped them; break layers with a glove; Sonny Buford; uses two-piece form to shape baskets; uses a concave form for his baskets; uses raw linseed oil to treat his baskets; uses a continuous weave; leather handles; makes an “Old Indian Joe” basket; three hundred potato baskets; strength of baskets; takes 3 days to dry his baskets. Transcript: 24 pp

Recording:  CD2195      51 min

3679 Buster Pinkham interviewed by Bill Mackowski on June 23, 2010 at Pinkham’s campground in Lexington Township, Maine.  Pinkham is 67 years old. He learned to make pack baskets from his father-in-law George Bean; started making baskets in 1963 and has been making them for forty-seven years; find nice trees in swampy areas; only uses brown ash; spring is the best time of year for pounding wood; prefers to pound wood out in the woods; cuts wood into billets; splits wood; shaves wood till smooth; makes them five or six feet; uses knife to gauge it; works with the wood after its been dampened; freehand; continuous weave; fish creels; clothes baskets; taught his children to make pack baskets; uses a keeper; no standards for building a basket; treats baskets with boiled linseed oil; Joe Knockwood; weaves from the right; George wove from the left; Ted Bear family in Aroostook County made potato baskets; Ted Bear patented a rotary pounder with three hammers. Transcript: 29 pp

Recording:   CD2196      38 min

3685 Jack Leadley interviewed by Bill Mackowski on June 21, 2010 at Mackowski’s farm in Milford, Maine. Leadley is eighty two years old, lives in Speculator, New York, and has been making pack baskets for fifty years.  He came to the Adirondacks in 1934 and saw the traditional Adirondack basket; different types of ash trees; first basket received from Dan Page; average basket is twenty two inches high; technique for pounding ash; first basket of white ash; best environment for trees; Mary Adams; quality of brown ash trees; how to process splints; soaking splints; use of molds to pound with; techniques of production including soaking, gauges, scrapers, weaves, harnesses, fishing creels; discussion of “Old Mohawk” style basket; unusual baskets; pack basket stories. Typescript: 17 pp

Recordings:  CD2212-2213    29 min

Video:  V310 VHS How to Make An Adirondack Pack-Basket with Jack Leadley   56 min.


Back to Collections