Clara and

Rocky Keezer

   Passamaquoddy

Baskets

Pleasant Point, Maine

“I worked on the big baskets, I weaved ‘em up, I made the bottoms, about 25 cents apiece. But they all died off - the men that made the scale baskets....” 

Clara Keezer interview with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance & The Hudson Museum

                                                                                                                                       

Clara Keezer

Keezer made her first basket at the age of eight and has worked towards perfecting and developing the art continuously since 1938. Brown ash and sweetgrass splint basketry has long been a traditional means of survival for the Passamaquoddy people. Ms. Keezer's parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all survived on the sale of the baskets they made. Using brown ash and sweetgrass, sometimes dyed brilliant colors, the family created large utilitarian baskets like backpacks and the so called "fish scale" baskets (used for transporting fish scales used in the production of nail polish) and "fancy" baskets for the tourist trade. Often sold door to door for a pittance, these decorative baskets are now highly prized objects in public and private collections of Native American art around the country.


To construct her baskets, Ms. Keezer purchases rough thick splints of brown ash (fraxinus nigra) from Micmac Indians from the north woods of Aroostook County, Maine, who are still able to harvest the now scarce brown ash tree. The "stick" is first pounded by the back of an axe until it loosens the growth rings. Ms. Keezer prepares all her own raw materials of "splints." She gauges, splits, smoothes, carves handles and dyes her splints with aniline dyes. She uses forms (blocks) handed down from her ancestors as well as forms of her own invention. The sweetgrass (hierochole borealis odorata) grows in salt-water marshes and is harvested by her son Rocky in July and August. It is then dried, cleaned and braided for decorative use.


A Maine Indian basket is a very special Maine State treasure and a time-honored indigenous tradition. When Keezer weaves a beautiful basket, she weaves not only a work of art, but also the heritage articulated by an ancient tradition of a culture's survival. She passes on to new generations a native tradition and creative process where the visual outperforms the verbal, using quiet observation and ingenuity to communicate her history. Keezer's sons Rocky and Kenny learned from their mother and are considered by many to be among the most talented "next-generation" basket makers in Maine.                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                         From the Traditional Fine Arts Organization

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