2016 was a good year for traditional ash Wabanaki basket weaver Theresa Secord (Penobscot Nation). In June 2016 she was named a Native Arts and Cultures Foundation National Artist Fellow, and in September honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow.
Art Works, the weekly podcast produced by National Endowment for the Arts, recently interviewed Theresa about her art, family, and advocacy as the co-founder of the Maine Indian Basketmaker’s Alliance. Click here to listen to the podcast, or to read the transcript.
Excerpt from Art Works podcast:
Jo Reed: Now your great-grandmother was a basketweaver. Did she pass that on to your mother or to your grandmother?
Theresa Secord: No, and that was what was striking when I went to work for my tribe as the staff geologist. In the 1980s, I became aware that the tradition in my family as it had in many families had skipped at least two generations, and so I did know my great-grandmother and I watched her making baskets when I visited the reservation because I had strong ties there. Growing up, I went to visit in the summers and my grandparents lived there when I was a kid.
Jo Reed: You must’ve spent some time thinking about this, why do you think it did skip those two generations, do you think it was your great-grandmother’s generation … thinking you won’t need this or your mother or grandmother’s generation kind of pushing away or both?
Theresa Secord: Yes, I think both. I think that at one point basketmaking had become associated with poverty and then, you know, the invention of plastic baskets for use had an impact and the economy in general. People had been very interested in baskets and Native American art for a time, you know, sort of this rusticator group of tourists at the coast of Maine for almost 200 years and that had really slowed down in the.. you know, I’d say 1960s and ’70s especially.
Jo Reed: What were the baskets traditionally used for?
Theresa Secord: Well traditionally for hunting and fishing and you know, different storage purposes in the olden days and the tribal economy then switched to, you know, I like to say that the Native Americans in Maine were really the first ones to plug into the economy of tourism, which is still Maine’s top industry. And so since 1840 people have been selling baskets at the coast and these baskets were made to serve all kinds of purposes, to hold men’s collar stays…