Molly Neptune Parker - A Statement from the Maine Arts Commission
- June 16, 2020
Maine Arts Commission mourns passing of Molly Neptune Parker
Molly Neptune Parker’s life was dedicated to the preservation of Passamaquoddy traditions, language and values. Born in Indian Township in 1939, Molly Neptune Parker was also one of the most gifted basket makers of the Passamaquoddy tribe. As a founding member of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, Parker served for many years as their president. She was the recipient of many honors including the First People Fund, Bowdoin College, the Maine Arts Commission and the New England Foundation for the Arts.
Parker was a revered master artist in Maine Art's Commission's Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program. Now in its thirtieth year, the program encourages master artists to pass on their skills and cultural knowledge to new generations. According to Kathleen Mundell, the program’s director: “As both a keeper and a generator of her culture, Molly exemplified what it means to be an elder and a master traditional artist.”
In recognition of Parker’s lifetime contributions, Parker was awarded the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2012. In 2018, her work was chosen as the prize for the first Maine Arts Awards in partnership with ArtsEngageME.
“Basketmaking is an art that I believe I was born to do, much as my ancestors have done for thousands of years,” Parker said in 2012, after being awarded the NEA fellowship. “Basketmaking is for me about innovation and creativity within the context of a traditional art form. The functionality, the materials and the shapes have been a legacy for each generation.”
Parker was the matriarch of four generations of living basketmakers. Molly will be sorely missed.
The Maine Arts Commission was honored to visit her home in 2018 to film this segment about her life's work.
National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Molly Neptune Parker
It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of Passamaquoddy Basketmaker Molly Neptune Parker from Princeton, Maine, recipient of a 2012 National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. Parker was the matriarch of four generations of Passamaquoddy basketweavers and led efforts to share this tradition with young people, encouraging the continuance of this art form for generations to come.
Born in Indian Township, Maine, in 1939, Parker was part of a family of basketmakers; her mother, grandmother, and aunts all made baskets. While the men would harvest and pound the ash trees used for basketmaking, the women in her family would strip the ash and split it into the correct thickness—fine ash for fancy baskets and thicker ash for work baskets. In the Passamaquoddy tradition, families have signature designs that are passed down; Parker made baskets with ash flowers fashioned on the top, a design her mother and grandmother used.
Parker was known for her fancy baskets, featuring intricate weaving techniques, such as her signature creation, the acorn-shaped basket. Basketmaking supported her livelihood, and allowed her to buy a home and helped pay for the education of her grandchildren, who also carry on this craft.
Parker also worked to continue the basketmaking tradition in her local community and in the communities of Maine’s four federally recognized Wabenaki tribes (Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot). She served as president of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and as a master teacher in the Maine Arts Commission's traditional arts apprenticeship program, and demonstrated her craft at the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival as well as local festivals—particularly the annual Native American Festival & Basketmakers Market—and schools. In a 2012 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, she said, “Believe it or not there are more people today making baskets then there were in the ’70s. They realize the value of the work, not only for money, but to continue the tradition. They're finally realizing how important it is to carry on the tradition our forefathers started.”
For more information about Molly Neptune Parker, including the full interview, visit arts.gov.
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