MF 164 Maine Pack Basket Makers Collection

Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History: MF 164 Maine Pack Basket Makers Collection

Number of accessions: 8
Dates when interviews were conducted: 2010
Time period covered: 20th 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).

NA3673 Peter Neptune, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, Pleasant Point, Maine (date of interview unknown). Neptune talks about starting to make 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 $4 or $5; it used to take $2 or $3 to pound it; now he can sell baskets for $170 and his backpack for $250; Altvater’s son learned from Neptune; doesn’t get own trees; he used to pound his own trees; uses blunt end of an ax; can peel off 6 or 7 strips that are 2 or 3 in. wide at a time; score it then split it; scrape on one side; at least 3 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 1000 baskets; buys harnesses; uses fancy trim on some baskets, made candy baskets. Text: 24 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2190 50 minutes.

NA3674 Fred Moores, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, July 16, 2010, at Pleasant Point, Maine. Moores (age 77), talks about learning basket making from his mother and from William Altvater; making utility baskets or scale baskets; baskets used to sell for $2.50 or $3; 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 9 in. 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 10 rings per pound; one good log equals 8 or 9 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. Text: 28 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2191 49 minutes.

NA3675 Ralph Smith, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, February 1, 2010, Wilton, Maine. Smith, a 92 year old pack basket and snowshoe maker, trapper, and woodsman, talks about how 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. Text: 14 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2192 22 minutes.

NA3676 Lawrence Hurd, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, January 24, 2010, Bangor, Maine. Hurd, age 98 and considered the dean of Maine basket makers, talks about growing up in Old Town; knowing many of the Indians living on Indian Island; working 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 $0.33; 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 3 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. Text: 23 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2193 53 minutes. Video: V 0311 (DVD) Basket Making by Lawrence Hurd.

NA3677 Joe Bartlett, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, January 27, 2010, Lee, Maine. Bartlett, who is 84 and has been making baskets for forty years, talks about being taught by Bill Altvater; 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. Text: 17 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2194 30 minutes. Photos: P09270.

NA3678 Willard Tilton, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, January 26, 2010, Passadumkeag, Maine. Tilton, age 78 and born in Mattawamkeag, Maine in 1933, talks about teaching children at a wilderness camp to make baskets; making over 1300 baskets; uncle had machine pounder; taught himself; 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 determines the colors of logs; scraped them; break layers with a glove; Sonny Buford; uses 2-piece form to shape baskets; uses a concave form for his baskets; uses raw linseed oil to treat baskets; uses a continuous weave; leather handles; makes an “Old Indian Joe” basket; 300 potato baskets; strength of baskets; takes 3 days to dry his baskets. Text: 24 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2195 51 minutes. Photos: P09269.

NA3679 Buster Pinkham, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, June 23, 2010, at Pinkham’s campground, 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 47 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 5 or 6 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 3 hammers. Text: 29 pp. transcript. Recording: CD 2196 38 minutes.

NA3685 Jack Leadley, interviewed by Bill Mackowski, June 21, 2010, at Mackowski’s farm, Milfod, Maine. Leadley, who is 82, lives in Speculator, New York, and has been making pack baskets for fifty years; talks about coming to the Adirondacks in 1934; seeing 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. Also included: VHS titled, “How to Make An Adirondack Pack-Basket with Jack Leadley.” Text: 17 pp. typescript. Recordings: CD 2212 – CD 2213 29 minutes. Video: V 0310 (VHS) 56 minutes.