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Maine Indian Basket Makers

Martha Stewart Living Television

The beauty of Maine lies not just in its magnificent landscape, but in its people as well. Maine's craftspeople and artisans are creative, inventive, and self-reliant. Its Native American people -- members of the Wabanaki nation -- were Maine's first artisans. And their tradition of basketmaking is Maine's oldest art form, dating back thousands of years.

Theresa Hoffman, a Penobscot, founded the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA) because, as she puts "We realized that there were fewer than a dozen of us younger than the age of fifty in the state who still were practicing these very ancient traditions of ash and sweet grass basketry." Thanks to the work of the alliance, there are now more than 75 Indian basketmakers in the state -- and elder tribe members are handing down their skills to a new generation.

Although the people of the Wabanaki nation made and sold all kinds of baskets, they were, and still are, famous for their fancy baskets. These baskets were first made during the Victorian era to cater to the tastes of wealthy tourists. Some well-known designs include the porcupine basket, the acorn basket, sweet grass flats, fancy button boxes, and barrel baskets.

The Native American people of Maine consider sweet grass to be sacred. It is used for spiritual purposes in blessing ceremonies and is burned or smudged in spiritual cleansing rituals. By weaving in sweet grass, Theresa is incorporating her spirit into each basket she creates. The abstract and the practical combine into a single beautiful keepsake.