The Tomah Basket

A story by James Boyce from 2019

James Boyce and his Uncle Fred (Sonny) Tomah, 2018

"My name is James Boyce, the son of Danya (Tomah) Boyce and Jerry Boyce. I am a proud member of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

I was first introduced to brown ash basket making by my de-facto grandfather, Walter James (Jim) Tomah (1922-1996), who at the time and up until his crossing over, made baskets on the “flats” in Houlton, Maine. I remember being taught everything from identifying brown ash trees in the forest by their distinct characteristics, to harvesting and processing the ash tree to manufacturing the “Tomah Basket” from start to finish. I still possess and cherish the very first basket I ever made with the help of Jim.

In more recent years, I revisited this area of my life through my late uncle Fred (Sonny) Tomah (1951-2018), master Maliseet basketmaker who re-introduced basket making to me as a form of art. With Uncle Sonny at the helm of the line of “Tomah Basket” makers, he evolved the “Tomah Basket” into beautiful pieces of art that are greatly sought after nationally and internationally.

I will never forget the lessons taught to me by these two beautiful souls. In the not so distant future, I plan to begin making baskets of my own to help keep the line of “Tomah Baskets” going into the up and coming generation and help keep the art alive.

Fred Tomah Katahdin Series basket, Houlton, 2010

Fred Tomah Katahdin Series basket, Houlton, 2010

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Ash trees collected by James Boyce and Sonny Tomah in preparation for pounding and making baskets

First basket James Boyce made with Jim Tomah

Jim Tomah carry-all basket, Houlton, 1998

Jim Tomah carry-all basket, Houlton, 1998

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society