Since I was a teenager I have been collecting old post cards and other antique images of Native people from the Northeast. They’re an incredible window into a time gone by. Some postcards were produced and sold by Native people themselves. Occasionally old cards are found that feature a Native person with a stack of them in hand that they were likely selling to tourists visiting one of the many vacation destinations in the Northeast where Native people could be found selling their baskets.
There are many Native basket makers today who are continuing what is one of the oldest, and most viable traditional arts practiced by the Wabanaki, and following in the footsteps of their ancestors. Producing baskets for resale dates back to at least the 1700s when the making and selling of baskets became an important means of survival for Native people. Usually made from ash splints, some of the earliest examples were strictly utilitarian. By the mid-nineteenth century, so-called “fancy baskets” with interesting shapes and weaves and often dyed in bright colors were produced, and the images that follow is just a small sampling from my collection. All of these images are from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and most feature Wabanaki (Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and Abenaki) basketmakers.
Figure 3 – Real Photo postcard of Chief Poolaw and his wife Lucy inside the Teepee basket store, showing a wide variety of the fancy baskets they offered for sale.
Figure 4 – Real Photo postcard of Bruce Poolaw, aka Chief Poolaw, a Kiowa entertainer from Oklahoma inside the Teepee basket store. He married Lucy and together they built the Teepee store. Circa 1950.
Figure 5 – Real Photo postcard titled “From Chief Poolaw’s Basket Store.” These women were no doubt some of the basketmakers who were supplying his shop. Circa 1950.
Figure 7 – Real Photo postcard of Mamie Joseph on the right, Russell Joseph, a.k.a. Russel Joe, and Maime’s sister Frances Joseph Sapiel, Indian Island, Old Town, Maine. Circa 1907.
Figure 8 – Real Photo postcard of Mamie Joseph (seated) and her sister Frances Joseph Sapiel (holding a basket) outside their home on Indian Island. Circa 1910.
Figure 8a – Detail of Figure 8.
Figure 9 – Real Photo postcard. Basketmaking, Indian Island, Old Town, Maine. The individual seated on the steps may be Governor Joe Francis. Postmarked, Sept. 11, 1911.
Figure 10 – Real Photo postcard titled “Splitting Ash for Baskets and Braiding Grass. Indian Island, Old Town, Maine.” Circa 1910.
Figure 11 – Real Photo postcard showing a display of Penobscot baskets. Old inscription on the back reads: “Old Town, Maine, July 6, 1936.
Figure 12 – Real Photo postcard. Similar to figure 11.
Figure 13 – Real Photo postcard of Clara Neptune and some of her beautiful baskets. Circa 1912.
Figure 14 – Real Photo postcard titled: “Famous bowmaker Newall and wife” with a fine display of baskets nearby. Indian Island, Old Town, Maine. 1920s.
Figure 17 – Real Photo postcard of Pauline Shay’s basket display. No location indicated. 1927-1940.
Figure 18 – Real Photo postcard of a Penobscot basket display in Lincolnville, Maine. Circa 1950.
Figure 19a – A business card from Chief Blue Jay’s store. Slightly earlier than the image in figure 19.
Figure 20 – A printed postcard illustrating the Indian village in Bar Harbor, Maine where many Wabanaki sold their baskets to area visitors. Circa 1905.
Figure 21 – Real Photo postcard of an unidentified Wabanaki basket maker working on a splint basket. Circa 1940.
Figure 22 – Printed postcard of three Penobscot basket makers. Printed text on the back reads: Souvenir Card, Penobscot Indian Reservation, Indian Island, Maine. 1940s.
Figure 23 – An old glass slide of Molly Susep and Mary Moil, Indian Island, Old Town, Maine. Made by Edward Little Rogers, of Boston. Circa 1900. I wish this one was in better shape but it is what it is.
Figure 26 – Real Photo postcard of a Passamaquoddy family at the Pilgrim Tercentenary in 1921. A few baskets can be seen on the table inside the tent. The young girl is also wearing a beautiful beaded cap.
Figure 27 – Real Photo postcard of a group of Passamaquoddy at the Plymouth Tercentenary Indian encampment. Both women are holding baskets. 1921.
Figure 28 – Real Photo postcard of Chief William Neptune and his wife making baskets. Likely taken on the Passamaquoddy Reservation. Taken sometime between 1927-1940.
Figure 33 – Printed postcard. Dora O'bomsawin (1889-1952).
From the Odanak Reserve in Quebec, Canada. 1930s. My thanks to Chris Siouiw at the Musée des Abénakis for the identification.
Figure 34 – This circa 1900 printed image is identified as Caroline (Tahamont) Masta by Christopher Roy. No other information is available.
Figure 36a – Detail of the baskets in figure 36.
Figure 37 – Real Photo postcard of Sipsis, identified as an Abenaki basket maker. The sign at the base of the basket display reads: Genuine Indian Baskets hand made by the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians. Image is copyright 1934 by C.T. Bodwell.
Figure 38 – A circa 1900 advertisement of an Indian souvenir shop in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia that likely sold baskets.
Figure 39 – Real Photo postcard of a Mi’kmaq group that highlights many basketmakers. 1927-1940.
Figure 40 – Printed postcard of a Mi’kmaq camp, Rocky Point, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. The seated individual in the foreground is holding two fancy baskets. Card is postmarked 1906.
Figure 41 - Real Photo postcard of Mi’kmaq chief Noel and his wife. Between them is a display of their baskets. Circa 1910.
Figure 42 – Real Photo postcard of a Mi’kmaq camp in Nova Scotia with an assortment of splint baskets and weaving material visible in the background. Circa 1905.
Figure 43 – A printed postcard of two Mi’kmaq children from Baie Ste-Marie, Nova Scotia. Circa 1910.
Figure 44 – Printed postcard of three Mi’kmaq basket makers from Chester, Nova Scotia. Circa 1905.
Figure 45 – Real Photo postcard of Chief Jim Meuse of Bear River, Nova Scotia selling baskets with his family. Circa 1910.
Figure 46 – Printed postcard of two Mi’kmaq women marketing their baskets. Published by the Yarmouth Portrait Company in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Circa 1910.
Figure 47 – Real Photo postcard of a Mi’kmaq camp in Chester, Nova Scotia. Beautiful assortment of baskets on display. Dated 1907.
Figure 48 – Tintype of two unidentified individuals. They could be Mohawks or Abenaki. Beautiful pedestal basket on the right with fancy weave. Not sure why all the short branch segments are in the larger baskets. 1860s – 1870s.
Figure 49 – Real Photo postcards of two Native basket weavers working for the Eastern States Packaging Company in Peterborough, New Hampshire. No other information available. Circa 1910.