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Featured Items from the Abbe's Collections

Abbe : Research : Collections : Curator's Features : Sweetgrass Sewing Basket
Sweetgrass Sewing Basket

This basket, made by Philomene Nelson, is one
of 294 baskets with known basketmakers
in the Abbe's collection.

Sweetgrass Sewing Basket

• Made by Philomene Nelson

• Gift of Watie Akins, Mrs. Nelson's grandson, 1995

• 11.5 cm high x 29 cm diameter


Right now, the Abbe Museum has 950 ash baskets in its permanent collections. Of that large and important
collection, however, we can attribute 294 to known basketmakers. Before about 1980, it was almost unheard
of that a basketmaker would sign their work. They made baskets for a living and sold them for almost nothing. Philomene Nelson made baskets all her life. She supported a
large family from her work. But she never considered herself
an "artist." In one typical anecdote, she commented on why
she made baskets:


We were like demonstrators. I got three dollars a day. Philomene probably got more because she was older and more experienced. She was a terrific basketmaker and a woman who spoke her mind. One time a tourist asked her, 'So this is your hobby,' and she said, 'Hobby, hell! This is my bread and butter!'


– Madeline Tomer Shay, Penobscot, in Molly Spotted Elk, 1992


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