Weaving baskets is a family tradition for Molly Neptune Parker and her grandson, George Soctomah Neptune.
So too is attending the annual Maine Indian Basketmakers Holiday Market at the University of Maine.
Parker, 75, has been selling her signature baskets and sharing her weaving technique since the beginning of the market, which marks its 20th year in December.
Neptune, 26, has been there just as long. It’s just that when he was 6, he was more interested in romping around the museum.
This year, the grandmother and grandson will be two of the accomplished Peskotomuhkati (Passamaquoddy) artists at the 20th annual Maine Indian Basketmakers Holiday Market, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at the Collins Center for the Arts.
Gretchen Faulkner, director of the UMaine Hudson Museum, says she will recognize inaugural artists, including Parker, who have made the market a destination event.
Parker is a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellow recipient. For decades, the master teacher in both the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and Maine Arts Commission Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, has mentored basketweavers, including Neptune, whom she raised on the Passamaquoddy Reserve in Indian Township.
Neptune learned early and learned well. He was 4 when he asked his grandmother to show him how to weave a basket. She suggested he wait a bit longer.
“She kept saying, ‘When you’re older, when you’re older,’” recalls Neptune. “I wasn’t willing to wait for my Gram.”
So when he spied his aunt, Virginia Wiseman, at summer camp, he talked his way into the basketweaving lesson she was offering to junior high-age children.
When asked if he knew how to weave, the 4-year-old Neptune says he quipped, “Of course I do, my Gram’s Molly.”
Soon after, Neptune had made his very first basket, which he presented to his Gram. She still has it.
Neptune was 7 at a show in Nashville when he first sold baskets he had made.
“I wouldn’t accept checks,” says Neptune. “I made $40 that day. I was loaded. And I was amazed how quickly I spent it. I accept checks now,” he jokes. “And major credit cards.”
Neptune, who started giving basketweaving lessons at age 11, is an educator at Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor. At noon Dec. 13 at the holiday market, he’ll demonstrate how he creates his stunning intricate baskets embellished with basketry birds and flowers.
“George is a perfect example of the next generation of basketweavers who came to the show with his family and who is now a master artist,” says Faulkner.
Neptune says he and Parker believe they put a small piece of their spirit into each of their baskets. Thus, he says, they believe a person does not select a basket; it’s the other way around.
“You buy a basket because it’s chosen you,” says the 2010 Dartmouth College graduate who majored in theater.
These days, Neptune’s baskets like a lot of people.
“He is something else,” Parker says of her grandson. “He makes beautiful baskets. He has good ideas and manages to do exactly what he’s thinking.”
Neptune says if he can imagine a basket, he can usually bring it to life. And he cherishes the process. By using the same weaving techniques that his great-grandmothers Irene Newell Dana and Frances Neptune Richards did, as well as some of the very same tools, Neptune feels connected with them.
Faulkner says 50 Maine Indian artists are scheduled to showcase their one-of-a-kind art forms alongside Neptune and Parker. Storytelling, traditional music, drumming and dancing also will be featured at the free, open-to-the-public event.
At 11:30 a.m., just prior to Neptune’s demonstration, author Lee DeCora Francis will read from her book “Kunu’s Basket: A Story from Indian Island,” in the Hudson Museum’s Maine Indian Gallery.
The story’s general theme might seem a bit familiar to Neptune. Kunu, the boy in the story, has watched his father and grandfather make baskets on Indian Island and wants to make one of his own. While it’s more difficult than Kunu anticipated and he gets frustrated, with his grandfather’s guidance, Kunu perseveres and finishes the project.
Following Neptune’s presentation, Penobscot Nation Cultural and Historic Preservation Director James Francis will deliver a gallery talk at 12:30 p.m. about a new Hudson Museum exhibit, “Katahdin, Greatest Mountain.”
Francis, a masters of fine arts in intermedia student at UMaine, collaborated with Stanley Levitsky, Duane Shimmel, Nate Aldrich and Berkay Tok on the installation. It features a 3-D solid relief model of Katahdin, digital images and audio, and a new Penobscot song recorded in 5.1 surround sound specifically for the installation, says Faulkner.
This past spring, Francis and other members of Penobscot Nation were among those who took part in a 16-day trip that retraced a trek that Henry David Thoreau described in “The Maine Woods,” published 150 years ago. On “CBS Sunday Morning” Francis shared that his ancestor, Joe Polis guided Thoreau on that journey.
Schedule of featured events
10 a.m. Welcome ceremony, Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis
10:30 a.m. Traditional Penobscot songs, Chris Sockalexis, Penobscot
11 a.m. Brown ash-pounding demonstration, Eldon Hanning, Micmac
11:30 a.m. “Kunu’s Basket: A Story from Indian Island” reading, author Lee DeCora Francis, Penobscot, Hudson Museum Maine Indian Gallery
12 p.m. Fancy basket-weaving demonstration, George Neptune, Passamaquoddy
12:30 p.m. Gallery talk on “Katahdin, Greatest Mountain,” James Francis, Penobscot
1 p.m. Canoe paddle-carving demonstration, Barry Dana, Penobscot
1:30 p.m. Penobscot regalia project and beadwork demonstration, Jennifer Sapiel Neptune
2 p.m. Burnurwurbskek Singers
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777