Holding up the Sky: Wabanaki people, culture, history & art

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Medicine and Health

Beadwork designs, especially those with three leaf floral motifs, often represent medicinal plants. People kept small pouches close to their body—in a pocket or worn as a necklace, and sometimes filled with herbs—to promote healing. While some designs are obvious, like a curled-up fiddlehead or a blueberry, others are more abstract.

Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, Penobscot beadworker noted, “When I look at the floral designs, I see plants that ease childbirth, break fevers, soothe coughs and colds, take away pain, heal cuts, burns and bruises, and maintain general health. For thousands of years these plants were used for healing by the Tribes in this area.”

Molly Molasses

Molly Molasses, Bangor, ca. 1865

Molly Molasses, Bangor, ca. 1865

Item Contributed by
Bangor Historical Society

Mary Pelagie Nicola (1775-1867), also known as Molly Molasses, was a member of the Penobscot Nation. She was a businesswoman, selling animal skins, baskets, and other artwork, and was known as a healer.

Later in life she sold photographs of herself in various poses, wearing her traditional Penobscot peaked cap, trade silver, wampum collar, beaver fur top hat, and checkered coat. A poem written for her by David Barker accompanied the photographs, including the stanza:

I write these rhymes, poor Moll, for you to sell
Go sell them quick to any saint or sinner
Not to save one soul from heaven or hell
But just to buy your weary form a dinner.

Molly Molasses was a lifelong partner to John Neptune, Lt. Governor of the Penobscot Nation from 1816-1865. He was the father of Molly’s four children.

Wabanaki Fashion

Wabanaki Fashion

Wabanaki Fashion

Explore Decontie & Brown's Gingham Glam Series inspired by Molly Molasses.

Wabanaki people have always designed and decorated their clothing in beautiful and innovative ways.

Access to manufactured trade materials around 400 years ago, like woven cloth and glass beads saved time from processing skins, stones, and shells, traditionally used for adornment. The introduction of brightly colored silk ribbons and standard sized glass beads from Europe led to a flourishing of innovation in Wabanaki adornment and fashion.

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