ABOVE Blueberry Basket, 2009, ash and sweetgrass, 12″ x 9.5″
TEXT BY JOHN BOTTERO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY MICHAEL D. WILSON
In the early 1960s, Passamaquoddy artist Molly Neptune Parker was working with her husband and mother-in-law to produce 100 “scale baskets” — used by fish factories to collect fish scales and heads — per week, and stashing her “fancy baskets” in a closet. “I never really thought of selling them,” she told an interviewer for the National Endowment for the Arts, which named her a 2012 National Heritage Fellow, an honor given to nine American artists each year. “Then I started thinking if I can sell the scale baskets…then I can sell these fancy baskets.”
ABOVE Blue Corn Basket, 2017, ash and sweetgrass, 12″ x 1.7″; Fancy Basket with Ash Flowers, 1995, ash and sweetgrass, dimensions unknown; Strawberry Basket, 1982, ash and sweetgrass, 4″ x 5.5″; Acorn Basket, 2007, ash and sweetgrass, 6.5″ x 4.25″
A decorative style developed by indigenous people in the 19th century, fancy baskets became Parker’s artistic calling. Assembled from ash splints and braided sweetgrass woven in intricate patterns, such as porcupine twists and double weaves, her creations often sprouted carved flowers — flourishes she learned from her mother. Others took the form of acorns, a signature design whose popularity enabled her to purchase a home in the early ’70s, and strawberries studded with up to 500 small curls.
When Parker passed away in Indian Township in June, she left behind works that command thousands of dollars and a legacy taken up by family members, including her grandchild, Geo Neptune, whom she praised for building on her traditions while incorporating “something [extra] on each basket.”
Special thanks to Bar Harbor’s Abbe Museum for loaning pieces from their permanent collection.
John Bottero is the vice president of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries. Constantly in pursuit of incredible finds, he sees dozens of people each week on Thomaston’s Free Appraisal Day and travels the state helping Mainers bring their collections and valuable heirlooms to market.