Tree and Tradition

Tree & Tradition

basketmakers on Indian Island
Basketmakers on Indian Island. 0061-07, Maine Historical Photographs Collection, Special Collections, Fogler Library, University of Maine

Passamaquoddy Creation Legend:

“Glooskap came first of all into this country…into the land of the Wabanaki, next to sunrise. There were no Indians here then… and in this way, he made man: He took his bow and arrows and shot at trees, the basket-trees, the Ash. Then Indians came out of the bark of the Ash-trees.”

– Molly Sepsis, Passamaquoddy in Charles G. Leland, Algonquin Legends (1884).

Maine Native American baskets are made from brown ash–the Basket Tree–which grows in wetlands and around streams. A good brown ash log for basketmaking is straight and free of knots, at least six inches in diameter, and from five to 12 feet long. Splints for basket weaving are produced by pounding the entire log or wedges of it with the back of an axe or a sledge. The pounding causes the tree to split along its annual growth rings, producing splints. The splints are then ready to use or may be split with a splint gauge into widths ranging from 1/16-inch to 1/2-inch.