Basket maker gets prestigious arts grant

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Posted Dec. 08, 2010, at 7:09 p.m.
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Celebrated Maine Indian basket maker Jeremy Frey, who Tuesday evening received a prestigious $50,000 arts grant during ceremonies at Lincoln Center in New York, plans to return as an exhibitor in the University of Maine Hudson Museum’s annual Maine Native Basket Sale and Demonstration Saturday, Dec. 11.

Frey, of Indian Township and a member of the Passamaquoddy community, is a longtime exhibitor at the 16-year-old basket sale and basketry exhibition being held at the UMaine Collins Center for the Arts. On Tuesday, he was one of 50 artists to receive unrestricted $50,000 grants from the Los Angeles-based United States Artists, or USA, a national grant-making and advocacy organization. USA’s founders — the Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential and Rasmuson Foundations — created the organization in 2005 as a way to invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate their value to society.

USA grants are among the largest individual arts grants in the country, according to Theresa Secord, executive director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, and an award-winning basket maker herself.

Chosen for the caliber and impact of their work, the USA Fellows for 2010 are from 18 states and Puerto Rico, range in age from 32 to 71 and represent some of the most innovative and diverse creative talents in the country, according to the USA.org website. Artists include cutting-edge experimenters and traditional practitioners from the fields of architecture and design, crafts and traditional arts, dance, literature, film and media, music, theater arts and visual arts. USA considered 138 nominations.

Frey, a 32-year-old father of two sons, was taught basket making by his mother, Frances “Gal” Frey, with assistance from the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance. He is now a member of the alliance board of directors and a master basket maker, said Secord, who nominated Frey for the USA award.

“He is an extraordinary artist in his own right, and a great result of the efforts of the MIBA,” Secord said. The mission of the alliance includes promoting and strengthening the time-honored Native tradition of hand-weaving utility and decorative baskets, one of the first industries of the state of Maine. Part of that includes convincing Maine’s tribal youths to take up the art of basket weaving, she said.

“As a director and friend of the founding directors, we had some idea of how this would come about and how we would save Maine Indian basketry,” Secord said, “but we really never saw this kind of artist — very contemporary but remaining true to his tribal history at the same time.”

Secord said Frey credits basketmaking with many successes in his life.

“It’s been quite a meteoric rise over the last decade for him,” she said.

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2010 Maine Indian Basketmakers Sale and Demo

The 2010 Maine Indian Basketmakers Sale and Demonstration will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Collins Center for the Arts at the University of Maine. The event is free and open to the public.

The annual holiday event features Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot basket makers who sell their handmade, one-of-a-kind, ash-splint and sweetgrass basketry. Work baskets, such as creels, pack and potato baskets, and fancy baskets ranging from strawberry- and blueberry-shaped baskets to curly bowls, can be found along with quill jewelry, wood carvings and birch bark work. Traditional music, demonstrations of brown ash pounding, basket making, carving and birch bark work, in addition to traditional drumming and dancing, will be part of the day’s activities.

The schedule is as follows:

9 a.m.: Doors open.

9:30 a.m.: Traditional welcome with Penobscot Indian Nation Chief Kirk Francis and traditional greeting songs with Watie Akins, also of the Penobscot Nation.

10 a.m.: Brown ash pounding and work basket demonstration with Micmac Eldon Hanning.

10-11:30 a.m.: Book signing with Penobscot author Charles Norman Shay.

10:30 a.m.: Fancy basket demonstration with award-winning basketmaker Molly Neptune Parker and family.

11 a.m.: Bead-working demonstration with Penobscot Jennifer Sapiel Neptune and Passamaquoddy Gal Frey.

11:30 a.m.: Birch bark wigwam presentation by Penobscot Barry Dana in the Hudson Museum.

12 p.m.: Carving demonstration with Penobscot master carver Rick Love.

2-3 p.m.: Burnurwurbskek Singers traditional signing and drumming.

3 p.m.: Drawing for the Hudson Museum Friends Maine Indian Basket Raffle.

This year’s Hudson Museum Friends Raffle basket is made by Molly Neptune Parker, an award-winning Passamaquoddy basket maker. Her work has received recognition from the Maine Arts Commission and the First Peoples Fund. Parker’s baskets are included in many museum collections, including the National Museum of the American Indian, and in private collections. Parker uses tools that have been passed down in her family for generations and creates basket forms that she learned from her mother and other relatives, according to Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner, who coordinates the annual basket makers’ sale. The raffle basket is a large, fancy sewing basket that includes a pincushion and sewing notions pocket on the inside.

For more information, call the museum at 581-1904.

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