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Dana, Neptune to ‘preserve traditional culture in real time’ at 25th annual holiday market

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ORONO — Barry Dana and Peter Neptune will demonstrate Wabanaki traditions at the Maine Indian Basketmakers Holiday Market on Saturday, Dec. 14 at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine.

Both men have participated in the annual public event — a collaboration with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance — since its inception 25 years ago. 

Dana, a citizen of the Penobscot Nation, will etch birchbark at 12:30 p.m. The self-described artist, activist and traditional-minded person living in Solon, Maine, says birchbark has been a Wabanaki staple for thousands of years. Native people have utilized birchbark — which is renewable, durable, moisture-resistant and laden with nutrients — to build homes, canoes and baskets, and as a source of medicine.

When preparing to etch birchbark, Dana says he sketches with a pencil on the inside of a piece of birchbark. He then wets the bark and uses a pocket knife to scrape the design. When he etches faces of Native people, Dana wants their “spirit to come out of the bark. When I see a Native face, I want the eyes to sparkle.”

Demonstrating etching is a way to preserve traditional culture in real time, says the former chief of the Penobscot Nation. “I like showing how it’s done,” says Dana.

The tradition bonds him with nature and creation. “It’s a physical connection to the past and to ancestors I’ve never met,” says the UMaine alumnus who earned degrees in forestry and education.

Neptune, a 77-year-old Passamaquoddy, will demonstrate basketmaking at noon. His connection with the craft began about 70 years ago. As a child, he watched with interest when his mother and father wove baskets. He began collecting scraps they had discarded to make baskets of his own.

Neptune’s mother wove fancy baskets and his father made baskets that he sold to Down East fishermen. Neptune’s mother occasionally gave him a small basket to take to the store to trade for soda and candy.

Today, Neptune, a master basketmaker, weaves sturdy baskets that he embellishes with fancy touches. Similar to Dana, Neptune enjoys educating others about crafts and traditions. He has had plenty of practice with family members. 

His daughters Elizabeth “Maggie” Dana and Victoria Neptune apprenticed with him. And now Victoria is teaching her 16-year-old daughter Kira how to make baskets. Neptune also taught his sons Peter and Francis how to pound ash to use in basketmaking.

Over the years, Neptune says the number of people attending the market has increased. And he appreciates seeing what younger Native people are creating. “I keep promising that I’m going to retire, but I say that every year,” says Neptune, a veteran who for more than 30 years drove a bus in Washington County.

One of Neptune’s brown ash pack baskets (he believes he’s made about 10,000) will be raffled at 3 p.m. 

In addition to brown ash and birchbark baskets, several other Wabanaki artistic traditions will be celebrated, including jewelry making, wood carving and clothing design.

“I am amazed at how this event has expanded and evolved since we began the show in 1995,” says Gretchen Faulkner, director of the Hudson Museum. “The market is not just a sale, but an opportunity for visitors to learn about Wabanaki history and culture through the day’s schedule of educational programs. Attendees may also explore the museum’s exhibits and see works created by the ancestors of the artists attending the show.” 

The schedule of the free-admission market, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is as follows:

10 a.m. — Welcome ceremony

10:30 a.m. — Traditional Penobscot songs with Kelly Demmons, Penobscot

11 a.m. — Brown ash-pounding demonstration with Eldon Hanning, Micmac

11:30 a.m. — Reading the book “Canoe Maker: David Moses Bridges, Passamaquoddy Birchbark Artisan,” with author Donald Soctomah, Passamaquoddy, in the Maine Indian Gallery

Noon — Basketmaking demonstration with Peter Neptune, Passamaquoddy

12:30 p.m. — Birchbark-etching demonstration with Barry Dana, Penobscot

1 p.m. — Decontie & Brown fashion show with award-winning Wabanaki couture

2 p.m. — Burnurwurbskek Singers, traditional drumming and dancing

3 p.m. — Drawing for the Hudson Museum Friends Basket Raffle — featuring a brown ash pack basket made by Neptune. Raffle tickets $5 each; proceeds support the event.

Next December and going forward, the market will have a new name. To better represent participants and the diversity of crafts, its name will be the Wabanaki Winter Market.

For more information, call 207.581.1904. To request a reasonable accommodation, call 207.581.1226.

Last modified on Wednesday, 27 November 2019 06:15


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