As a young girl, Arnelda Jacobs (February 17, 1935–January 25, 2017), of the Serpent River First Nation in Ontario, learned to make baskets from her mother. In turn, she passed on the craft to her daughters and many others. Jacobs described her love of basket making in a 2016 interview with Gennaabaajing News, noting that, “making baskets is good for your health, good for your mind and spirit.” Black ash trees favor cold marshy environments and basket makers learn from elders how to identify and harvest appropriate, mature trees (30 to 50 years old). Once harvested, suitable log segments are pounded with heavy tools until the interior layers formed by the annual growth rings separate into strips. These are then processed into fine splints, which are smoothed, soaked, and—if desired—dyed, before weaving. In this “fancy basket,” made in the 1960s, Mrs. Jacobs wove a ribbon of orange-dyed ash into the brown base and lid.
Today, ash trees are threatened by the invasive emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle that has killed hundreds of millions of trees since it arrived in North America in the 1990s. Anishinaabe basket makers in Michigan and Ontario are working to collect seeds and capture knowledge of this important tradition, so that it can be revitalized and passed on to future generations.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.