Masters and apprentices

A story by Theresa Secord from 1930-2019

Theresa Secord holding one of her baskets

Philomene Saulis Nelson was a Maliseet basketmaker from Tobique, Canada, who moved to Indian Island when she married Horace Nelson of the Penobscot Nation. While she did not directly mentor members of her family in basketmaking, her great-granddaughter, Theresa Secord (Penobscot), inherited her tools.

Theresa Secord learned basketmaking from Madeline Tomer Shay (Penobscot), a younger friend of her great-grandmother, Philomene Nelson. Madeline Shay was a fluent speaker of the Penobscot language and an accomplished basketmaker. Theresa Secord began spending time with Shay in 1988 to learn the Penobscot language, resulting in an apprenticeship in basketmaking. “Madeline was determined to pass on her knowledge and skills of traditional ash and sweet grass basketry to me. She also inspired me to help found the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and was a founding member," said Secord in 2019.

By using her skills and the tools inherited from her Nelson ancestors, Secord has become an award-winning master basketry artist. She is deeply involved with promoting Wabanaki arts, and was the founding director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, a position she held for 21 years. She currently consults to First Peoples Fund helping to build better infrastructure for artists within tribes across the United States.

Secord has earned numerous first place awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the Heard Museum Indian Fair and Market. She received the National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellowship in 2016, a lifetime achievement award. She has mentored numerous next generation basketmakers, including her son, Caleb Hoffman.

Philomene Saulis Nelson (1886-1977), Maliseet, selling baskets, 1953. Courtesy of the Maine State Museum, Opal Nelson Collection.

Philomene Nelson wove this basket on her mold, and sold them on Indian Island and at markets in Maine.
Handkerchief basket, circa 1945 on the left, Handkerchief mold, circa 1920 on the right with the initials, P.N. carved into it.

Philomene Nelson barrel basket, Indian Island, ca. 1945

Philomene Nelson barrel basket, Indian Island, ca. 1945

Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Secord wove this handkerchief basket on Philomene Nelson’s mold in 2019.

Basket made by Caleb Hoffman, Penobscot, 2015. The business card was one Caleb’s third great-grandfather, Peter Nelson, used for his store on Indian Island.