David Moses Bridges Video Transcript

Visual: A tall thin man wearing a brown shirt and a dark fleece hat stands in a workshop, backlit from the open bay door behind him, speaking to someone off camera.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: …and I am a basketmaker. I make birchbark baskets; that’s what my grandpa did. I got the bug when I was about six years old. I just always wanted to make a birch bark canoe; I have no idea why. He was a canoe maker and we talked about it. But I never wanted to be a baseball player or anything. I just wanted to make birch bark canoes.

Visual: A split-screen image with a picture of the man on the right. On the left is a picture of a small, round, birchbark container etched with double curve designs.  Text reads: David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy Birchbark Artist”.

Visual: David stands in a dark workshop. Behind him on a shelf is a birchbark canoe, to which he gestures with a measuring tape. On shelves beneath it are rolls and stacks of birchbark. Beside it stand rolls of birchbark.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: Bark doesn’t rot, it’s virtually rot resistant. The weakest link on this canoe would be the roots. You might have to replace those. Cedar’s very rot resistant. And birch bark, it’s virtually rot resistant. I mean, you can walk through the woods and find tubes of birch bark where all the wood inside is rotted out because the bark is so full of resins and oils. It just doesn’t rot. It’ll get dry and brittle. It’ll discolor after a while, but, as long as you keep this thing fairly moist and out of direct sunlight it’ll be… it’ll just last forever.

Visual: David gestures to the shelves behind him, then he retrieves two pieces of bark.  One is pale, the other a warm, chocolate brown.

Voice of David Moses Bridges:

This is all just set up for baskets or wigwams. I got all kinds of different materials: summer bark, winter bark. It’s all the same stuff it just depends on the time of year you gather it. When you peel it in the summer it comes off this yellowy color. That’s the color of the bark. When you peel it in the winter it brings up just a really thin rind of the inner bark, which dries to a dark brown, as you can see right here. You have to have the winter bark to do the etching, obviously,because all you do when you etch is just wet this and scratch away.

Visual: David sits next to a table in a house.  A table lamp shines on his lap where he holds a framed panel of birchbark on which he is working.  He slowly etches the bark, removing the thin, darker layer with a scalpel.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: All I’m doing here is just scratching away that winter bark rind. [Scratching sound] It takes a long time. It’s really time-consuming, the etching. It’s my favorite part too so, and, unfortunately, I don’t get to do enough of it. That’s why I’m making these panels now, because I just glue the bark onto a panel and I can just etch a design.

Visual: David standing in front of the canoe and racks of birchbark.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: I stock up for the year and, uh, you know, try to keep enough because, I mean, I’m actually…  I’m trying to make a living doing this. And somehow I manage, but sometimes it’s tough. I got no problem killing a tree, you know,  to make a beautiful canoe out of. I mean, the way I look at it it’s like giving it a beautiful epitaph, maybe. I mean I see a lot of crimes against nature when I’m out in the woods.  I see clear cuts and spraying and everything, so I don’t feel bad about taking one tree.

Visual: David holds out two cardboard patterns for birchbark containers. He compares them, then folds one to show how the container is made.  The video then cuts to him tracing and cutting out a basket blank from birchbark.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: This is a basic… these two are a little bit different, as you can see. This is a more traditional style right here. It’s just a basic folded… [Light sound of cardboard being rubbed together] just like that. That’s your most basic folded form right there of berry basket. I call these berry baskets.

And that’s what I would do. And then you just… [Scraping sound of pencil tracing on bark] There you have it. And these, I’ve been loving these things. I was using scissors for a while

Voice of Gretchen Faulkner: Tin snips!

Voice of David Moses Bridges: Yeah, they work good for bark.

Voice of Gretchen Faulkner: Okay.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: And you can make them any size. I make big folded pieces.

Visual: Closeup of David’s hands as he uses a crooked knife to trim the blank to the correct size and shape.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: As you lay the pattern down you have to really… you have to look under these corners and see if you’re landing right on an eye.

Visual: David shows a piece of uncut bark to the person off-camera, shaking it to show how flexible it is. The video then cuts away to a closeup of the basket blank over a container of water.  Hot water is poured on the blank, steam billowing away in a breeze.  The blank begins to bend as it becomes wet.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: If it’s really good flexible bark like this stuff –  remember how I said I could tell this is gonna bend well? Because you can feel the flex in it if you do it. So you can kind of tell that that’s gonna bend really well. I cut the patterns out when it’s dry but then before I fold them I’ll soak it for a while.

Visual: David stands next to the water container holding the wet form and bending the birchbark into a container. Video then cuts back to Moses in the shop speaking to the person off camera. He gestures to a piece of birchbark behind him.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: It’s a bark quality thing. You do a test. The way I do that is – I wish we had a tree here – I just put the knife in and do a little [“ch” sound] and then I peel off a little chunk and I wiggle it see how thick it is in the first place. You know if it was any thinner than that I really wouldn’t want it.

Visual: David shows the person off-camera a container, referencing the spruce roots with which it is sewn, then pulling a bundle of roots out of a bucket behind him.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: These roots here are probably white spruce. They haven’t been soaked a long time. You can even see now that these, since these have been soaking for a few days that they’re already starting to darken up.

Visual: David stands in a forest wearing a black brimmed hat and gesturing to the features around him.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: This is spruce all around us. They’re on the smaller side, which means we might find some smaller roots. There’s some bigger stuff out there. Open ground. Mossy ground. On sandy soil. Not many big rocks. So, we’ll see what we find.

Visual: David kneels on the mossy ground of the forest, using his hands to remove the moss and dig down to the roots below. He follows the root, removing the moss from the ground surface and pulling the root up as he goes.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: There’s one right there. It’s a good size! There, about two inches under there there’s another one. [Ripping sounds] In historical records you’ll see black spruce

Black spruce favors boggy ground. Red spruce, white spruce, they all work good; even balsam roots work, I think. You know, some split better than others. Some have a little different coloration. But all the spruces work good for me.

Visual: David grabs a thick bundle of roots with both hands, carefully rolling it into a large coil.

Voice of David Moses Bridges:  Half hour’s work right there. If i do that, you know, work out here for three hours, I’ll have three or four of those.

Visual: David in his workshop again.  He holds a spruce root and demonstrates how he uses a crooked knife to cut the end, then carefully splits the roots to make material for sewing together birchbark containers.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: And then, the splitting process is… see these have been split once down the middle, uh, but I soaked them longer because what I do is I split the heart out and, uh, as I do that these little branches and little imperfections will come off when I do that. And it makes it more pliable, so I’ll just… And then that’s the process right there…

But I’m controlling the split as I go. I can feel it. This one’s splitting really easy; they don’t always split this easy.

Visual: A close-up of David’s hands as he switches to splitting the roots with both hands, holding one side in each hand.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: Some people split like this. Stevie splits like this. I’ve never been comfortable doing it that way.

Visual: He then switches back to holding the root with one hand, taking one half in this thumb and fore-finger and using his other fingers to push the other half away.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: I’ve got this little one-handed technique.

Visual: David sits in his shop, lit by the open bay door to the left of the screen.

Voice of David Moses Bridges: And I think it’s a beautiful aspect of Wabanaki culture. Obviously, these canoes are… they amaze everyone. They’re a very highly refined product of this forest. And all you need to do it is one of these.

Visual: David holds up a crooked knife.


Featuring: David Moses

A Collaboration of: The Hudson Museum and the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance.

Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance is supported in part by: Artography, a grant program of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), funded by the Ford Foundation.

Video Documentation Provided By: ASAP Media Service (Mike Scott, Alexander Gross, Yeshe Parks, Will Seyffer, Justin Taylor).

Millie Rahn, Folklorist.

Hudson Museum: Gretchen Faulkner, Director; Stephen Bicknell, Still Photographer.

Funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Also made possible by The University of Maine.