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Iroquois Basketry Thrives
“By teaching me and sharing their knowledge, Mary and her family made it possible for me to be able to share it with our Seneca community, where the art is nearly extinct. This is a marvelous gift indeed”—Michele “Midge” Stock

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Mentoring Project: Iroquois Basketry Thrives

Mary Adams of Akwesasne Reservation on the New York/Canadian border received a NYFS mentorship to teach Iroquois basketry to Midge Stock of the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum in Salamanca. Read her report below.

by Michele “Midge” Stock

I had the great pleasure of meeting Mary Adams, renowned Mohawk basket-maker, at a gathering of Great Lakes Basket and Quill Box makers last year in Michigan. She invited me to her home to learn more about Iroquois basketry. I was thrilled, of course, as I was a novice, and she is one of the most well-known Iroquois basket-makers in the world (yes, the world—not just the United States). I became acquainted with two of her daughters at the time as well. They always travel with her to help her and translate, as her English is limited and her hearing, poor.

I began to visit her home shortly thereafter whenever I got the chance, and got to know her and her daughters better. None of her nine daughters and sons had made baskets recently except a daughter who had died earlier that year of cancer. Mary would talk about this, wishing her daughters would take it up, because she knew they knew how. But all of them worked, had families too, and weren’t able to devote the time to the basketry.

During the great ice storm of winter 1998, Mary fell and injured her wrist and leg. She was unable to work on baskets for the first time in almost 70 years, and her health began to deteriorate as a result. As time went by, I would visit and try to work with her on the baskets. It became necessary for some of her daughters to help me, and they began to share each of their basketry specialties as they did so. By the time I received the mentorship from your agency, Mary was making baskets again, but her health was still failing. During the mentorship, it became necessary for her to be put in the elderly care facility on the Mohawk reservation. So when I would visit, her daughter, Edith, and I would take her out of the facility to her own home, and we’d work together on the baskets for the weekend. We even picked the sweet grass on some of the visits, which always made Mary very happy.

The special bonus of all this, besides the ability to repay Mary and her family for their kindness, was the fact that, little by little, the daughters began to make baskets together for the first time. They now get together regularly to make them, and they are keeping the art and proud tradition alive in their family. I don’t take any credit for this, but believe that the circumstances all just came together at the right time. The mentorship certainly helped me repay Mary and her family for their kind, selfless, and generous help to me. Mary’s fragile health and the subsequent need for us all to get together may have contributed in some small way, I believe, to us keeping the art alive. By teaching me and sharing their knowledge, Mary and her family made it possible for me to be able to share it with our Seneca community, where the art is nearly extinct. This is a marvelous gift indeed. (Coincidentally, a grant was also received during this time from NYSCA to allow me to start this teaching process with a small number of apprentices here on our reservation. It will be a long process, as I have so much still to learn, but I could never have come this far without Mary and her family’s help).

I know this is a long letter, and may not seem extremely important to share, but its significance to us is beyond measure, and I wanted to impart that to you. Thank you for this opportunity.
Iroquois basketmaker, Mary Adams
Mary Adams, Iroquois basket-maker, at work.
(Photograph courtesy of Traditional Arts in Upstate New York)

Splint and sweetgrass basket from Akwesasne

Splint and sweetgrass basket from Akwesasne
(Photograph courtesy of Traditional Arts of Upstate
New York)

Mentoring Brochure Download the Mentoring Brochure (PDF)

SPANISH language version of Mentoring Program Guidelines (PDF) available here.

The Mentoring and Professional Development Program is made possible with funds from the Folk Arts Program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Council on the Arts

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