Tribes in the Eastern United States were incorporated into the larger, European culture many centuries ago. Now, many are reaffirming their identities and traditions.
A Maliseet tribal member from Maine, this artist feels a strong responsibility to carry on the traditions of his small tribe.
Hand-gathered birch bark, hand peeled and etched, combines with sweet grass to make this imposing, well-proportioned, beautifully decorated, large container.
It looks simple, but think of the work to peel bark from a tree, in large stripes, manipulate it to suit your form without cracking and breaking, and then gather, dry, braid and sew the sweet grass.
The natural, figured bark of the birch tree is inverted here: the familiar grayish-white is seen on the inside. On the exterior is the smoother, reddish brown of the birch bark’s reverse side.
Fragrant sweet-grass, braided into ropes, finishes off the top and bottom edges of the tote, and forms the handles.
The decoration is an incised band of the familiar, white birch bark that encircles the piece. This was applied over the reddish body. The incised design is of trees with bare branches that form a graphic, graceful row all around this contrasting band. Like wintry trees, these are brown, since the white outer bark was scratched away to produce the design.
In the back, you can see how the broad swaths of bark were wrapped and sewn to form the piece. The bottom is a piece of bark, with the red side on the interior, contrasting with the body.
This would make a handsome container for yarns, sewing materials, magazines, or other items that are not too heavy.
Stately, graceful, and certainly something not often seen in the southwest, this is an impressive and lovely interpretation of an ancient and difficult craft.