Neptune-Parker, right, with her daughter Janet Neptune and nephew George Neptune, at the National Folk Festival in Bangor in 2003. BDN photo by Scott Haskell.
Molly Neptune-Parker, a Passamaquoddy basketweaver from Princeton, was named one of nine National Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts. The honor, awarded each year, recognizes the recipients’ artistic excellence and supports their continuing contributions to the nation’s traditional arts heritage. Parker will receive her award in the fall at a ceremony in Washington, DC.
Parker is renowned for her fancy baskets, created from ash wood in the shape of acorns, and topped her her signature ash flower – a design tradition carried on from her mother and grandmother. Parker is helping to keep the basketmaking tradition alive among her community in the Passamaquoddy tribe, including mentoring her nephew, George Neptune.
“Basketmaking for me is about innovation and creativity within the context of a traditional art form,” says Parker, quoted on the NEA’s website. “The functionality, the materials, and the shapes have been a legacy for each generation. I honor that legacy and believe I have a responsibility to continue it, basing it always on our traditions and knowledge of literally thousands of years. Basketmaking is an art that I believe I was born to do, much as my ancestors have done for thousands of years.”
Parker has served as president of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance and a master teacher in Maine Arts Commission’s traditional arts apprenticeship program, and has demonstrated her craft at the 2006 Smithsonian Folklife Festival as well as local festivals and schools. She is a recipient of Maine Art’s Commission Fellowship Award for Traditional Arts, New England Foundation for the Arts Native Arts Award, and First People’s Fund’s Community Spirit Award.
Other fellowships awarded to Mainers include Shaker singer Sister Mildred Barker and Maine fiddler and lumberjack Simon St. Pierre, both in 1983; fellow Passamaquoddy basketmakers Mary Mitchell Gabriel (1994) and Clara Neptune Keezer (2002); and master boar builder Ralph Stanley in 1999. The prestigious honor has been awarded to everyone from bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and blues icon John Lee Hooker, to boat builders, poets, dancers and an array of artists and artisans.