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Photo of three women sitting behind a table covered with baskets
Mary Mitchell Gabriel (center) with daughters Clare and Sylvia. All are masters of Passamoquoddy fancy basket making.

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Wabanaki Basketry
A Local Legacy

The Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac, and Maliseet tribes of Maine are known as the Wabanaki Indians, or "People of the Dawn." They are known for their baskets that they weave with the leaves of sweet grass and thin strips of an ash tree (splints). These Indian tribes share a common story that tells how their ancestors emerged from an ash tree when the Creator split it with an arrow. So, for thousands of years, they have used ash splints to make baskets for both personal and community use. Today, many people collect them as beautiful works of art.

The baskets fall into two categories: work baskets, which are used for gathering, storing, and transporting goods, and fancy baskets, ones that are crafted for the public, with decorative designs. Intricate shapes and designs and bold colors are used to make woven handkerchief baskets, powder-puff holders, purses, vases, wastebaskets, thimble baskets, candy dishes, knitting baskets, cradles, and fans.

Mary Mitchell Gabriel, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe, has spent more than 60 years perfecting the art of basket making. She is working to preserve this important cultural tradition by teaching her two daughters how to make the baskets. She is also teaching others through the Maine Cooperative Extension Service and the Maine Basketmakers Alliance.

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