Passamaquoddy Elder And Master Basketmaker Molly Neptune Parker Dies At Age 81

Jun 17, 2020

Molly Neptune Parker, a Passamaquoddy elder and master basketmaker, died Friday at the age of 81.

Parker is being remembered not just as a world class artisan, but as someone who wanted to see future generations of Wabanaki craftsmen thrive.

Molly Neptune Parker had already been making traditional ash wood baskets for more than 50 years when she gave a demonstration on Maine Public Television back in 1998.

In the documentary called "Our Stories: Healing Woods" she is surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she recounts her younger years on the Passamaquoddy reservations of Pleasant Point and Indian Township, where she learned her craft from those who came before her.

"We'd sit down and start making baskets. Old Mitch Francis used to cut up the standards...And then somebody else would start making the bottoms. And I'd weave all of the 100 baskets we'd make every week."

Credit Maine Public File

Jennifer Neptune with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance says she has been struggling to comprehend what's been lost with Parker's passing.

"She came from a long line of basketmakers. Her mother was an amazing basketmaker too, and she really carried on those traditions and all that goes with it."

Neptune describes the 81-year-old as someone who faced hardships with unparalleled strength, and was a reservoir of cultural knowledge.

"All the language, all the words for all the pieces of the baskets and the tools. You know, she was kind of our go-to person when we needed to know, ‘what do you call this?’ She would know it, she would know how to say it in Passamaquoddy."

Parker was known for the detail and intricate shapes of her signature acorn style baskets and sewing baskets, which sell for thousands of dollars and appear in Native American art collections around the world.

The recipient of numerous state and regional awards, Parker was recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 2012.

Credit Maine Public File

But despite all the accolades, Neptune says she never turned her back on the local scene. She was at every show, from the Unity Common Ground Fair to the Hudson Museum Basket Market in Orono, showing and teaching the craft.

"Like how important it is to keep traditions strong, and to share and mentor others. I guess if there's one thing that Molly taught me, it would be that."

Parker had nine children, 28 grandchildren, and 27 great-grandchildren — several of whom will be carrying on the traditions she taught, including grandchild Geo Soctomah Neptune, now a master basketmaker and a Wabanaki educator.

Molly Neptune Parker will be buried Thursday in Indian Township.