Generations of Wabanakis Share Their Artistry in Historic Bar Harbor

For thousands of years, the Native people of Maine have lived on and traveled to the shores of Mount Desert Island. Coming in birch bark canoes by river and sea to what is now Frenchman Bay; they paddled across the channel to land on the Island. After the arrival of Europeans, Native people continued to summer on Mount Desert Island, selling their wares to visitors. It is with this spirit that their descendants continue to travel to Mount Desert Island in modern times to participate in the annual Native American Festival and Basketmakers Market.

It’s fascinating to realize that among the visitors to the Festival today are the great-grandchildren of the people who bought baskets from my great-grandmother and her contemporaries. Her baskets and mine are in some of the same family homes and collections here on MDI. - Theresa Secord, Penobscot

The focus of the Festival is a market featuring basket makers, representing all four tribes in Maine, the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot, collectively known as the Wabanaki. Among this group are nationally renowned contemporary and traditional basket makers who travel to Bar Harbor to sell their work – drawing collectors from across the country.

The Festival combines the art and craft market with music, dancing, and demonstrations. Artists selling high quality baskets made from ash and sweetgrass, birch bark, and other traditional materials, as well as jewelry, musical instruments, and other crafts, gather to share their traditions, history, and culture with visitors. Demonstrations include dancing, drumming, flute playing, and basketmaking, as well as ash pounding.

Parking and public transportation are available, and the grounds of the College of the Atlantic are handicap accessible. Visitors are encouraged to use the Island Explorer bus system which stops at COA. In addition to the festival activities, this year a silent auction will feature works from Wabanaki artists. Proceeds support the non-profit teaching and apprenticeship programs of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance.

The Festival began in 1989 at the Abbe Museum, and as it has grown, it has taken place in several locations around town. In 1994, the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and College of the Atlantic joined the Abbe Museum as partners, allowing the Festival to grow to include more basketmakers, and to take place on the beautiful campus of College of the Atlantic. The Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance has since taken a lead role in organizing the Festival, and plays a key role in bringing dozens of new, “next generation” basketmakers and their families to the event.

The Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance is a nonprofit Native American arts service organization focused on preserving and extending the art of basketmaking within Maine’s Native American community. MIBA seeks to preserve the ancient tradition of ash and sweetgrass basketmaking among the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes.

The Native American Festival & Basketmakers Market will take place on

Saturday, July 9th from 10 am - 4 pm.

Image 1. Photo by Dee Lustusky.