FORT KENT, Maine — A Fort Kent family who wrote a book on snowshoes has written another book — this time about making traditional brown ash baskets.
Master snowshoe makers Brian J. Theriault, 62, and his father Edmond Theriault, 97, published “Leaving Tracks — A Maine Tradition” in 2014. The book details the art of traditional snowshoe making.
Now the Theriaults, along with Joan Theriault, 85, who is Brian’s mother and Edmond’s wife, have published “Brown Ash Baskets — A North American Tradition.”
The family has been making ash baskets together for more than half a century.
“We always worked with baskets. We sold them at craft fairs. Me and my father taught classes on basket making at adult ed and at the tech center,” Brian Theriault said. “My mother is the master of making the fancy basket.”
The Theriaults decided to share their knowledge of the craft with a larger audience and embarked on writing “Brown Ash Baskets” — a process that took about two years to complete.
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“Many people throughout North America make baskets so this is not just our tradition. This used to be a hobby of a lot of people,” Brian Theriault said. “There were over 100 potato farmers in Fort Kent in the 1900s. They almost all used brown ash baskets for the light weight and durability.”
The baskets were used to haul potatoes and other crops.
“My father picked 142 barrels of potatoes on his biggest day when he was younger,” Brian Theriault said.
The elder Theriault and other pickers would haul the potatoes from the baskets to potato barrels during harvest season.
The art of basket making was first perfected in the region by Native Americans to gather food as well as to haul non-food items long before bags and boxes were available.
Theriault said that historically, and out of necessity, many people would make baskets by simply bringing an axe into the woods, cutting down a tree and weaving the basket on the spot.
“That is how the generations in the past would do things,” Theriault said. “The key to a good basket is to make sure you’ve got a tight-weaved basket. If you make it all in one day, it will dry all at once, and become loose and move around, which will fall apart.”
He said that well-made baskets are still sought today by people from farmers to fishermen and other outdoorsmen.
Theriault said that basket making results in usable art and can be a fun family hobby, as it has been for his family for more than 50 years.
“We love what we do and really bond together, and we only do quality in our work,” he said. “It’s part of our traditions.”
For information about the Theriault’s books and how to purchase them, visit the family’s web page at ilovesnowshoes.com.