Basket making celebrated at Island Artisans
Vibrant, delicately crafted baskets greet the eye at Island Artisans in Bar Harbor.
Abigail Goodyear was among the five artists who founded the artists collective 30 years ago. The group has galleries in both Bar Harbor (99 Main St., 288-4214) and Northeast Harbor (119 Main St., 276-4045).
From a family of painters, Goodyear had moved to Bar Harbor to study architecture at College of the Atlantic. A hand weaver, she loved the interplay of colors and intricate patterns in the baskets woven by members of Maine’s Passamaquoddy Tribe. Some of the pieces served practical functions. Others were purely ornamental.
So she began tracking down and then highlighting these Native American creations in her individual space — Sweetgrass-Fine Baskets of Maine — at Island Artisans nearly 24 years ago. She now sells the work of 50 basket makers, all of whom are from Maine.
“I identify with craftspeople, as I understand how hard it is to create,” she said. “Baskets especially are really tough on your hands.”
Passamaquoddy artisans Clara Neptune Keezer and her late sister were two of the first crafters she met and whose work she sold.
“I got to know them as basket makers, but then I really started to know them as friends,” she added.
The relationships she has forged with the Pleasant Point sisters and many other basket makers continues to fire her passion for the art form. Some of the creators did not realize the monetary value of their pieces, so the Island Artisans co-founder has helped them price promote their work.
Among the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes are basket-making families that continue to pass along their ancient craft to generations of children, nieces and nephews. Younger basket weavers, who have studied techniques from their ancestors, often mingle those designs with a different approach.
Typically, the baskets are woven with brown ash, cedar and sweetgrass, but “they are not afraid to experiment.”
Passamaquoddy artist Jeremy Frey, the son of Princeton basket maker Gal Frey, sells his work through Goodyear. He specializes in ash fancy baskets, a traditional form of Wabanaki weaving. His intricately woven ash basket, which is painted symmetrically in pink, is priced at $2,800.
“This is my favorite one,” Goodyear said while holding the basket and noting its fine work. “I want to buy it for myself.”
Not all the basket makers are Native American. Among the first baskets that caught her eye were created by the late Bar Harbor artisan late Suzanne W. Nash. Nash devoted much time to studying the Native American basket weaving and possessed great appreciation for their work.
Nash handcrafted birch bark baskets intertwined with red spruce root and sweet grass, stood out.
“They were beautiful baskets and they weren’t even woven!” Goodyear declared.
Goodyear likes to mix the works of different artisans to keep her collection artful and fresh.
“When I get to see their baskets every summer it’s like Christmas time for me,” she said.
Goodyear especially treasures her ties with the Native American craftsmen and women whom she met in the early days through Island Artisans. She saw their craft and her gallery space evolve at the same time.
“It’s almost like we’ve made the journey together,” she said. “They’ve touched my life. I guess, over time, I’ve learned about the difficult time they’ve had in our country.”