In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine Memory Network

Birchbark, Beads and Continuing Traditions

This Exhibit Contains 17 Items
1
Birchbark bucket, ca. 1900

Birchbark bucket, ca. 1900

Item 23489 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Birchbark

And when the time comes that you need a vessel to bear you upon the water you shall ... lay the bark of the white wood tree on the ground, and cut the bark on each side, so you can shape it to a point on each end, and lay the top frame on the bark and then turn up the side flaps of the bark closely to the frame, and you shall sew the side flaps together with strips of the roots of the soft wood tree ... after sewing up ... you shall use the sap of the pitch wood tree called Puk-go, "pitch," so that the water will not enter into the vessel; after this done your vessel will be ready to bear you upon the water.

-- Joseph Nicolar, 1893

Birchbark traditions were central to the material culture of the Native People of Maine.

Everything from canoes, container and coverings for houses to moose calls and novelty items could be made from the bark of a paper birch.


2
Birchbark wastebasket, ca. 1900

Birchbark wastebasket, ca. 1900

Item 23495 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Naturally waterproof, odorless and resistant to insects, bark could be cut into any shape, bent, folded and sewn with spruce root and decorated with etched designs or porcupine quills.


3
Bentwood container, ca. 1820

Bentwood container, ca. 1820

Item 23497 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Maine Indians harvested large sheets of bark by carefully wedging it from the trunk, without cutting the wood or harming the tree.

Bark harvested in winter, before the sap runs, was thicker and more durable than summer bark and its dark inner surface could be decorated with etched motifs.


4
Model birchbark canoe, 1936

Model birchbark canoe, 1936

Item 23498 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Sebattis Tomah, son of well-known birchbark artist Tomah Joseph, made this canoe and decorated it with motifs common to his father's work.


5
Penobscot cuffs, ca. 1870

Penobscot cuffs, ca. 1870

Item 23503 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Beadwork

When you are in hunger, take the bow and go forth and kill such animals as you need for food and bring them onto the woman who shall prepare the meat for food, and you shall prepare the skins to cover your bodies and bed.

-- Joseph Nicolar, 1893

Maine Indians decorated clothing made from hides and furs with beads made from shells and other natural materials such as porcupine quills.

When Europeans brought glass beads, needles, thread, ribbons, and cloth as trade items, Native peoples used these materials to decorate men's and women's attire with beadwork and ribbon appliqué.


6
Penobscot cape collar, ca. 1870

Penobscot cape collar, ca. 1870

Item 23502 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Penobscot men wore cape collars and cuffs for dances, ceremonies, inaugurations of governors and chiefs, and other special occasions.

The collars and cuffs were derived from the decorated great coats worn by Penobscots in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The earliest collars were ornamented with ribbon work and white seed beads laid out in double-curve motifs typical of the Penobscot.

This example features medicinal and other plant motifs and reflects design traditions that spread through the Northeast in the latter half of the nineteenth century.


7
Penobscot Mourning Moccasins

Penobscot Mourning Moccasins

Item 1475 info
Maine Historical Society

Much of the beadwork Maine Indians produced was reserved for use as personal regalia and worn for ceremonies, dances, and political and diplomatic events.


8
Mohawk purse, ca. 1880

Mohawk purse, ca. 1880

Item 23507 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Many Northeast Indians, beginning in the early 1700s, produced beaded items that were admired for their superb craftsmanship and exquisite beadwork and used for trade or sale to outsiders.

This purse's floral motifs reflect a beading tradition that extended throughout the Northeast. Mohawk Indians probably made it in the Niagara Falls area for sale to tourists.


9
Penobscot child's moccasins, ca. 1870

Penobscot child's moccasins, ca. 1870

Item 23505 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

The pieces of red and navy-black broadcloth used in these moccasins are "annuity cloth," issued twice a year to each family as part of payment of interest on money owed by the State of Maine for Indian lands.


10
Beadloom necklace, ca. 1910

Beadloom necklace, ca. 1910

Item 23506 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Maine Indians produced necklaces for their own use and for sale to others.

This example was acquired in Aroostook County and probably was made by a Maliseet or Micmac beadworker.


11
Wabanaki beaded purse, ca. 1870

Wabanaki beaded purse, ca. 1870

Item 23504 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Beading styles were copied and objects traded throughout the Northeast, making it difficult to attribute beadwork to specific tribes.

This purse may have been made by a member of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, or Maliseet tribes, which today are collectively referred to as Wabanaki, meaning "people of the land of the dawn."


12
Passamaquoddy birchbark dish, ca. 2000

Passamaquoddy birchbark dish, ca. 2000

Item 23508 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine



Today, Maine Indian artists continue to create art forms using traditional materials and designs.

Master artisans pass on skills to family members or others within their communities, teaching them all steps of the process, from selecting and preparing materials to creating the art forms.

David Moses Bridges decorated this traditional dish form with double-curve motifs. He often draws on the work of his ancestors, who were renowned birchbark artists.


13
Penobscot birchbark basket, ca. 2001

Penobscot birchbark basket, ca. 2001

Item 23509 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Organizations such as the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance have been integral in preserving the ancient tradition of brown ash and sweetgrass basketry among Maine's Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes.

Other forms of contemporary Maine Indian art may be found in galleries and museum shops around the state and at special events, fairs, and demonstrations.

Penobscot Chief Barry Dana creates birchbark containers, decorating them with both etched design and quillwork.


14
Penobscot hide and quill pouch, ca. 2004

Penobscot hide and quill pouch, ca. 2004

Item 23607 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Aaron Evans apprenticed with Charlene Francis, a Penobscot artist, to learn traditional decorative techniques.

His work draws on earlier hideworking and quillwork techniques.


15
Maliseet gathering basket, 1993

Maliseet gathering basket, 1993

Item 23510 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Fred Tomah is known for his finely woven "cat's head" gathering baskets, in which he intentionally weaves a mistake to avoid creating a perfect piece.

Tomah is recognized by Maine Indian basketmakers for his ability to locate and prepare high quality brown ash for basketmaking.


16
Passamaquoddy fancy basket, 1996

Passamaquoddy fancy basket, 1996

Item 23511 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Theresa Neptune Gardner (1935-2004) was known for her innovative basket forms, ranging from fruit and pincushion furniture to snowmen and jack-o-lanterns.


17
Penobscot rootclub, 1996

Penobscot rootclub, 1996

Item 23512 info
Hudson Museum, Univ. of Maine

Stanley Neptune learned to carve from Senabeh (Roland Francis) and this club reflects design motifs that were common to the work of his teacher, including the floral chip carving on the club's stock.

Neptune signs his work with an eel, his family's clan symbol.


This Exhibit Contains 17 Items