Publication from thethe Indigenous Vermont Series 2012:9, published courtesy of Wôbanakik Heritage Center.
EXCERPT FROM INTRODUCTION
“The prime directive of Haven is to reclaim lost, fragmented or otherwise damaged cultural practice and belief from Indigenous Vermont, and to a certain extent, applicable forms of documentation from neighboring areas. A second important principle is the repair of fragmented or damaged cultural practice by using all available reconstructive/healing tools. The third function of Haven is to make the repaired information available to those Indigenous Vermonters and their neighbors, who have any interest in reviving lapsed culture. The fourth reason; and the one that gives Haven its name, is to safely archive this information in a format that will be of use to future Indigenous generations, if the current one is uninterested.
Probably the one craft that is universally recognized as giving Indian Identity is the ash splint basket. Although probably not made before the 18th century, Indigenous Vermonters, as well as other regional tribes became masters of the craft. Much of the early history of Indigenous Vermont Baskets are to be found in other Haven publications.”
Late Period (1870-1970) Indian Baskets In Vermont – Part 1. 11 pages.
Part1: Basket History and Technology & Preparing the materials for the Fancy Basket
Late Period (1870-1970) Indian Baskets In Vermont – Part 1A. 11 pages.
Decorative overweave, or “Cowiss”
Basket Handles and Hinges
Late Period (1870-1970) Indian Baskets In Vermont. Part 2. 11 pages.
Part Two: Baket Types Represented in Vermont
Multi-purpose work and arm baskets
Late Period (1870-1970) Indian Baskets In Vermont. Part 2A. 13 pages
Knitting and Tatting baskets
Baskets for the Hall Table
Baskets for the Dining Room
An unclassified basket
Hampers. goose down baskets and other large, “fancy” baskets
Basket for the Field and Lake
Back to THE HISTORIC INDIGENOUS ARTS OF VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE
The Vermont Abenaki Artists Association was a long time in the making. After the state of Vermont recognized the four tribes, we realized there was a need to collaborate so that our artists could be found. Please read Our Story, which follows, and then click on Abenaki History for detailed information about the types of art created by our people in the past and present.
The Historic Indigenous Arts of Vermont and New Hampshire
By Frederick M. Wiseman Ph.D.
When we think of indigenous American craft arts, we immediately think of Navajo rugs and Tahono o’odam (Papago) basketry. Or perhaps the woodcarvings of the Northwest Coast of North America. Possibly one of the least recognized historical Native American crafts regions of North America is the Far Northeast, only a few books will mention baskets made by Maine or Canadian Maritime tribes. However, Vermont and New Hampshire have a vibrant but little known artistic tradition stretching back over 10,000 years. The oldest artistic works are made of stone, chipped or ground into beautiful but useful tools such as the clean, almost Art Deco-looking lines of Vermont Middle Archaic Period gouges, the tight design of Late Archaic lapidary jewelry, or the evocative rock-carved human face petroglyphs at Bellows Falls. However, except for stone, and a few pieces of shell, there is little that remains, underground of this rich artistic tradition. During the So-Called Colonial Era (1609-ca. 1800) the Indigenous Arts of our region are still little understood and seem to resemble those of neighboring tribes. There are occasional pieces of 18th century quillwork-decorated leather craft or twined basketry residing in museums and private collections illustrating the precise work and artistic flair of the People. Unfortunately, they are so similar to items made by our Penobscot, Huron and Iroquois neighbors that there has been little effort by art historians to find out what is specific to our region.
Below, are a few examples of older art traditions that have good ties to the VT/NH region and its immediate environs of southern Quebec. These show a careful choice of material, excellent plotting out the eventual form, and meticulous care in decoration — evidence of a well developed craft tradition that its practitioners were very comfortable with. Many of our 19th and early 20th-century craft arts seem to have its closest ties to the great multiethnic Indian Village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, but other traditions especially basketry shows early artistic similarity to Southern New England, while cloth seems more similar to our Wabanaki brethren, showing that our area was a great crossroads of artistic ideas flowing throughout the region.
Most Indigenous Vermont and New Hampshire wood craft is very utilitarian, and probably would not be classed as fine or decorative art. However, some particular forms, such as crooked knives and root clubs have become accepted as valuable craft arts by art historians and critics. We do see nice examples of these tools that have come from our area, but have a distinct stylistic look. Root clubs, for example, did not seem to be made and sold in Vermont as tourist items, although very similar looking ones were sold for that purpose at Kahnawake. These root clubs tend to be carved relatively simply with minimal decoration, usually of fine ink or watercolor delineating bird-like beaks and eyes, rather than the fine carved detailing and painted design demanded by tourist buyers. Instead, we have a documented example that seemed to be used in healing, and another that was used to keep order within a family, indicating that they remained, at least in part, internal cultural implements.
Another well-designed and executed wooden implement is the crooked knife (often called “basket-knife” in VT). These distinctive native-design tools seem as rare as root clubs and are almost always entirely utilitarian. However, one crooked knife with a provenance just north of the Canadian Border in the Southern Eastern Townships of Quebec is finely crafted with beautiful incised and filled detail on the obverse and an artistically sweeping rake to the blade; thereby making a classic pieces of Northeastern Native art. (Photo to the right)
In the last 50 years or so decoys have emerged as a great vernacular art tradition, with many fetching many thousands of dollars at auction. Although there are Vermont decoy carvers with Indigenous heritage their creations are not considered “Indian Art.” However, a composite twig decoy from the same area as the crooked knife is so similar to the Cree “Tamarack Twig” decoys accepted as legitimate Indian Art that we will list it here. This is a goose “shadow decoy” constructed of black or river birch twigs and bound with cotton twine. A Nulhegan band elder remembered their use in middle 20th century cornfields around Lake Memphramagog to attract Canada geese to the shotgun. When viewed from a distance, the decoy has a wonderful flowing stance, and as the elder said “looks like a goose to another goose.. (Photo to the right)
These few items are only an introduction to the richness of historic Indigenous woodcraft of our region. Old bowls, spoons, wall-hangings, cups, walking staffs and even furniture remain to this day to grace museums and collections.
Since the 1970’s, beaded clothing and fashion accessories of our neighbors to the East have become some of the most collected and valuable of any Native American art. Fortunately, our regional styles have not seen such interest or even study by elite art collectors, and so the materials are still somewhat available and collectable by Indigenous museums and cultural organizations. I find that some of the late 19th and early 20th century clothing used by basketsellers especially interesting. It combines European materials such as cloth and ribbons with indigenous motifs to make a distinctive, but underappreciated fashion that I call “cut-cloth Fringe’ style. We have several examples of this style from the Connecticut River Valley and Lake Champlain which seem to date from the 1890’s to about the beginning of the Great Depression. The example that I share here is made from a tan twilled cotton with patchwork and ribbon-work detail below the neck and above the hem. It is sturdy and technically well made, so much so that it is still worn for educational purposes. (Photo to the right)
Of course everyone wants to know about “Abenaki Beadwork,” and unfortunately, pre-1900 Indigenous Vermont/New Hampshire beaded cloth is the most elusive craft art that remains today. There is one late 18th/early 19th century beaded moccasin vamp or epaulet that was found in NW Vermont that is in a generalized style that may or may not be Vermont Abenaki, but was at least used here at one point. (Photo below).
Probably a more characteristic style is the mid 19th century “flat bag” or reticule described below. It has a form related to the typical “tulip” or “inverted keyhole” bag sold by the Eastern Wabanaki people of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. However, the beadwork itself is distinctive and unlike that of the standard Wabanaki to the East, or the Iroquois styles to the west. Unfortunately, it has not yet attracted interest of collectors, museums and academics, so it is uncertain exactly whether this is a “Montreal Area,” “Eastern Townships (Quebec) area,” “Vermont area” “or “New Hampshire area” style; or all of the above. However, I believe that it represents the best candidate style for having been produced here in the mid 19th century. (Photo to the right)
The one craft art likely to show up in VT/NH antique shops is ash-splint basketry, and there are many styles and types. I will illustrate two of the older more utilitarian types that were made before the ubiquitous “sweetgrass” and “cowiss” touristic souvenir baskets that are so common today. Ash splint basket making in VT/NH basically went extinct in the 1930’s. Baskets after that time seem to be made by expatriate basket sellers from Canada or Maine who sold tourist goods in places such as the White Mountains Intervale or the shores of Lake Champlain. (Photo to the right)
The first early type is from the 1830’s and is more closely related to southern New England basketry, in its “varying splint” construction and the use of stamping and or painting on the wide splints as decoration. it was probably used like a bandbox, for the storage of lightweight household and fashion goods such as yarn or hats. The second basket, probably from the third quarter of the 19th century, still retains the varying splints, but now shows direct influence of basketry evolution to the East, in its checkerboard (rectangular) base and the treatment of the radiating splints on the lid. Instead of being stamped, the wider splints are “daub-dyed” or pigment painted only on the outside before weaving the basket. The later, turn of the 20th century dyed ash splints are dipped in dye and thus show the color both inside and out. Both of these early basket styles are relatively uncommon in VT/NH and even less common with a good provenance placing them here in the 19th century. (Photo to the right)
Another important basket type is the coiled basket. Even more elusive than early beadwork, coiled basketry is only known from two areas in the Northeast, the Passamaquoddies and a single family in Northwestern VT. These are tiny items, made from carefully selected and prepared horse-hair, similar to the much more well known Thono O’odam tourist wares. As with most local wares, there is no historical interest in these beautiful tiny baskets, and we await the continuation of this tradition by young members of the VT basket making family.
Interested in Learning more about the Indigenous Art of Vermont?
Enrolled Citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation
Juried Artist since 2016
Brian Chenevert is the Historic Preservation Officer for the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe and a talented artist. He is a storyteller, author, and wood worker. who was taught wood carving and whittling by his grandfather at a young age.
He is a history buff whose research helped to revive the traditional Abenaki winter game of Snow Snakes which has now been played annually since 2007. Brian’s hand carves snow snakes, war clubs and rattles decorating them by burning in traditional Wabanaki designs.
For almost 20 years Brian has provided traditional Abenaki and Wabanaki stories for multiple Abenaki newsletters and in 2015 published his first book, “Azban’s Great Journey”, which is a compilation of traditional and original tales of the Abenaki trickster – Azban, the raccoon. Azban’s Great Journey is now available for purchase on Amazon.
Brian has developed the coloring book Abenaki Animals with fellow Nulhegan Abenaki artist, Francine Poitras Jones. Most recently, they have collaborated on the storybook Swift Deer’s Spirit Game (2019) that was just released.
He is also a drummer and singer who performs with the Nulhegan Abenaki Drum.
I have always loved working with wood, carving and shaping it into a creation of all your own. I enjoy taking a simple branch and working it into a snow snake which will bring joy to some boy or girl at our annual winter games.
I have been telling and sharing Abenaki stories for many years, providing stories for multiple Abenaki newsletters and culminating in completing my first book about Azban the raccoon. The tales of Azban, in particular, are ones my children loved to hear over and over throughout the years which is what led to him being the topic of my first book.
In 2015, Brian published his first book, “Azban’s Great Journey”, which is a compilation of traditional and original tales of the Abenaki trickster – Azban, the raccoon. Azban’s Great Journey is now available for purchase on Amazon. Brian has developed the coloring book Abenaki Animals with fellow Nulhegan Abenaki artist, Francine Poitras Jones. Most recently, they have collaborated on the storybook Swift Deer’s Spirit Game that was just released.
In addition to woodworking and carving, I enjoy bead work and crafting and have made many pieces which include porcupine quill earrings and chokers, wampum earrings, belts, bracelets, and necklaces.
Gov. Phil Scott says that he will proclaim Oct. 9, 2017 as Indigenous People’s Day in Vermont. This is the same date on which the federal holiday Columbus Day falls this year.
According to his proclamation, Scott says the state will recognize the contributions of Vermont’s first residents.
“I’m pleased to recognize the historic and cultural significance of the Indigenous Peoples here in Vermont, with an understanding our state was founded and built upon the lands they first inhabited,” Scott wrote in a prepared statement obtained on Friday. “With this proclamation, we, as a state, aim to acknowledge and celebrate indigenous heritage.”
It would take legislative action to formally rename Columbus Day in the state. However at the local level, the Brattleboro select board already passed a resolution this year after town meeting voters passed a nonbinding resolution supporting the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day.