The Wabanaki Virtual Tour Video Transcript


Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Among the Hudson Museum’s holdings are collections that present the artistic traditions of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot peoples. This exhibit focuses on brown ash and sweetgrass baskets, birchbark work, carving, and decorative traditions. The objects on exhibit date from the early 1800s to the present. To complement this program, please explore the app that the museum created for this gallery. You’ll find the app on our website’s education page – select the button for “Museum App”. Also, please visit the museum’s YouTube channel and watch contemporary Wabanaki artists talk about how they learned and continued to carry on these ancient traditions, and concerns they have about the perpetuation of their art for future generations from climate change, and invasive insect pests to changing attitudes to land use and access.

Basket Making Traditions

Visual: Various baskets in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Wabanaki creation Basket Making legends tell of Gluskabe shooting an arrow into the brown ash tree. The tree splits open, and the people emerge from the tree. Basketmaking is Maine’s most ancient artistic tradition, and brown ash is central to this art form.

Visual: A piece of brown ash wood that has split into several strips.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Brown ash grows in wet areas along the banks of streams, rivers, and brooks. It has unique properties. When harvested and then pounded with the back of an axe, it splits along the tree’s growth rings, producing strips of material that are extremely pliable and can be scraped and split into pieces to make baskets.

Visual: Wooden basket forms and other tools in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Tools used to make baskets include wooden blocks, or molds, to ensure that baskets are uniform in shape and size, gauges with sharp teeth that cut a single strip of material into multiple widths, and crooked knives which are used to carve handles and sturdy basket rims.

Visual: Various baskets in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Wabanaki people made baskets to carry, store and gather items. One of the earliest forms is the pack basket. This basket was designed to fit in a canoe, and today these sturdy baskets are a must for ice fishing and trekking in the woods. After contact, Wabanaki people began to make baskets for sale to settlers, who prized them for their sturdiness and utility. The sale of baskets was a major source of income. With the development of Maine’s tourist industry in the mid-19th century, Wabanaki communities traveled to Maine’s coast, and inland to lakes and resorts to sell baskets and other novelty goods. The baskets on exhibit date from the 1850s to the present. Over time, styles, the addition of other materials such as sweet grass and Hong Kong cord, and colors changed to meet the demands of consumers and design trends. Baskets were used in the home to store just about anything. Let’s look at some of the forms here.

From the 1800s to the mid 1900s, nearly every individual in these communities was involved in some aspect of basketmaking; from harvesting brown ash and pounding and preparing splints, to braiding and gathering sweet grass, to actually weaving a basket. Many hands work to create baskets. With the Depression and World War Two in the 1930s and 1940s, tourism declined, and the ability to sell baskets became limited. New materials such as plastic took the place of natural materials, and with the loss of markets, there was little incentive to make baskets.

In the 1980s, there was a recognition that basketmaking was central to Wabanaki culture. Elders who were keepers of the tradition worked to pass it on to a new generation, and today Wabanaki artists are recognized for their artistry.

Visual: A brightly-colored basket shaped like a three-tiered wedding cake decorated with flowers and birds made of brown ash attached to twigs.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Here are some contemporary works made by this new generation of basketmakers.

Birch Bark Traditions

Visual: Containers and other decorated objects made of birch bark in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Birchbark was the fabric of life, used to create shelter, moose calls, torches, Birch Bark Traditions containers of all shapes and sizes, and canoes. Harvested from the paper birch, birchbark is waterproof, insect resistant, and has no odor, and can be cut shaped and folded. Bark harvested in the summer has a lighter inner bark color, while the winter bark’s inner surface is a rich dark brown and can be etched with a sharp implement to create designs.

Visual: A wigwam made of birch bark.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Let’s explore the wigwam – why does it have a hole in the center? The frame of the Wigwam is made from saplings, and bark panels are sewn together with spruce root and attached with basswood lashings much like a modern tent.

Visual: Colorfully-decorated containers in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner:Here are examples of birch bark containers. Some are decorated with elaborate porcupine quill designs. Others are etched with scenes from everyday life or mythical beings and double curved designs.

Visual: A panel of birchbark with designs such as a human figure hanging a deer from a tree, human figures in a canoe pursuing a swimming deer, and a human figure hunting a moose.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner:Some of the etch work on exhibit was done by Tomah Joseph, who lived from 1837 to 1914. Tomah Joseph was a Passamaquoddy artist and fishing and hunting guide. He created a wide variety of birch bark art forms decorated with distinctive etched motifs, including hunting and camp scenes, and imagery from Passamaquoddy tales.

Visual: A museum case with a birchbark canoe in front of a large image of people in a canoe.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Central to this area of the gallery is a birch bark canoe made in 1888. This 19-foot canoe, a river canoe, was made for Charles Strickland – a prominent Bangor businessman – for lumber drives. Made from thinner summer bark, it was designed for speed. The seams are sewn with spruce root and then pitched.

Visual: A museum case with rolls of birchbark, bundles of spruce root, chunks of pine pitch, carved canoe ribs, a wooden mallet, wooden wedges, and crooked knives.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner:Canoe building requires the gathering of materials – a single sheet of blemish-free birchbark from a massive paper birch tree, spruce root for lashing the bark to the boat’s frame, maple to create the frame, the gunwales, and thwarts, and cedar for the canoe’s ribs, and pine pitch to make the entire boat waterproof. It takes about two weeks to build a canoe from start to finish, and many hands help with the project from carving each of the ribs and frame elements, to lashing the bark covering over the frame and pitching the canoe, all before it’s ready to launch into the water. You’ll also need canoe paddles for your canoe. These vessels are amazing – they are light and agile and float like a leaf on the water. If taken care of and repaired, they’ll last a lifetime.

Woodworking Traditions

Ninety percent of Maine is covered in trees, Woodworking Traditions providing habitat for wildlife. Trees and plants provide wood, bark, and roots for creating material culture. Herbs, berries, and nuts are important foodstuffs and ingredients for medicines.

Visual: Crooked knives in a museum case. The knives have handles made of wood or antler with a flattened portion at the end for the thumb to rest and a blade that in most cases is situated at an angle to the handle.  The grips are wrapped with various materials including copper and electrical tape.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: The most important tool for carving is the crooked knife. This one-handed draw knife is used to make canoes, paddles, snowshoes, wooden bowls, bows and arrows, and many other objects.

Visual: A large, shallow wooden bowl containing six flat disks inscribed with a flower-like design.  Beside the bowl to the left are four carved wooden counters and to the right is a bundle of sticks.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Here is an example of Waltes, a northeastern bowl game. You’ll find directions on how to make a replica of this game and instructions for playing this game on our website. We hope that you’ll create a game of your own and try this game of chance.

Visual: A single wooden and sinew snowshoe in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Snowshoes weren’t just for winter recreation, they were essential to getting around from place to place in the winter. Making snowshoes is a life skill. Frames were made from maple, and they were filled in with webbing made from caribou and later from moose and deer rawhide. Snowshoes use physics – they allow you to distribute your weight over a larger surface area allowing you to walk on the snow and not sink into it.

Visual: Carved and painted clubs in a museum case – the root ends of small trees have been carved into various forms such as a bear, and the face of a Plains Native American in a feathered headdress.  The handles of some of the clubs are decorated as well.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Root clubs are made from gray birch and poplar, which grows in bogs. Saplings with root balls are harvested from the bog, branches and leaves are removed, leaving the trees stock and roots. The carver releases the spirits in the roots, pointing some of them and carving others into animals and birds. These objects were traditionally used as a weapon, over time they have been used for ceremonies, and were sold to tourists. Today, carvers continue to carry on this tradition.

Decorative Traditions

Visual: A painted portrait of a distinguished elder Penobscot woman wearing a traditional peaked cap, a red dress, and a trade silver brooch approximately the size of a dinner plate. A second painted portrait of a young woman wearing a cotton shirt with frills decorated with ribbons, a black top hat with black feathers and a silver hat band, wampum and other beaded necklaces, and a necklace of trade silver disks approximately the size of oranges.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: In this gallery you’ll find two portraits – Decorative Traditions one of Molly Molasses and one of her daughter Sarah, dressed as Penobscot women would have been in the mid-1800s. Molly is wearing a peaked cap. Her daughter Sarah, a beaver top hat with trade silver hat band. Both wear brooches that were given by colonial powers as part of diplomacy to indicate allegiance. Sarah is also wearing a wampum bead necklace. Wampum was made by hand from Quahog shells. It was highly valued in the Northeast and was used as a medium of exchange in diplomacy. It was passed down within families for generations.

Visual: A series of intricately beaded objects in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: The decorative traditions of the Northeast include ornately beaded regalia and clothing forms featuring both medicine plants and double curved designs. Cape collars and cuffs were part of regalia worn by men for diplomacy, inauguration of chiefs and governors, and special community events. These were treasured pieces that were passed down from one generation to the next. Other items were made for sale outside the community, such as these beaded bags, many of which were sold by other northeastern groups, especially around the Niagara Falls area, and were brought back by visitors to that region. In Maine beadwork was largely reserved for use by community members and was not generally sold outside Wabanaki communities.

Visual: Powder horns and wooden containers inscribed with intricate designs in a museum case.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: You will also see other examples of traditional designs on powder horns, used to store gunpowder for early muskets, and other containers.

Visual: A woven satchel in a museum case. The weaving is done at a diagonal to the top of the bag.

Voice of Hudson Museum Director, Gretchen Faulkner: Here is an example of another weaving tradition done with basswood. This basswood bag uses a weaving material that weavers may turn to again in the future as brown ash is threatened by the emerald ash borer and climate change.


Only a fraction of the Hudson Museum’s Wabanaki collections are on exhibit. We invite you to explore Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac collections on our public access database. The link to the database may be found on the museum’s website collection page. We invite you to explore these collections online.