Passamaquoddy basket maker Jeremy Frey was honored with best of category awards at the Santa Fe Indian Market and at the Annual Heard Museum Fair for pieces he completed with the support of a 2014 NACF Artist Fellowship for Traditional Arts.
Early in the year, Frey created an intricate basket much smaller than works he has presented in arts markets in the past. The 6” tall by 4” wide piece was selected as the best in division work for basketry at the Heard Museum Fair. In the spring, Frey built the largest form, or mold that gives a basket its shape, he had ever made. “My responsibility as an artist is to continually further my work, to reinvent, revisit and explore ideas until they’ve been expressed thoroughly. I applied for the NACF Artist Fellowship so I could grow as an artist and create things I never have before. The fellowship allowed me the time to push myself to the next level and test new techniques because I didn’t have to worry if this piece would be one that anyone would definitely want to buy,” explained the artist, who spent months on the first basket using the new form.
“I spent a long time on it and the first basket using the new form was amazing technically, yet aesthetically, it was just plain ugly!” laughed Frey. “I tried something new and it didn’t work, yet you learn a lot by doing this and that first piece taught me quite a bit. The basket that won best of category at the Santa Fe Indian Market in August, was created on that same form.”
Frey is known for creating beautiful works with innovative texture and use of materials that continue styles and forms passed down through generations of Wabanaki and Passamaquoddy artists. “The purpose of my work is aesthetic. I make things that are supposed to be beautiful. A lot of people have really grand goals, mine is to please the eye. I find things that I find to be very moving, and I try to create that,” said Frey. “I avoid flat-sided baskets and prefer to create pieces with curves. I start with what the silhouette will be, any textures I’ll add, then my weaving patterns bring out the piece.”
The finely-woven details and gentle curves of his works are created from the rings of trees and carefully dried grass. With these materials, Frey began reviving traditions and breaking new ground. “While many basket makers weave with ash, I weave with braided ash. I cut ash splints from the tree down to a thin enough width that can be braided, then braid these into tiny ropes like we normally braid sweetgrass,” said Frey, who harvests and prepares all materials in his pieces. “I also weave braided cedar bark, which is a material our people haven’t used in baskets for the last few hundred years, but we used to.”
“Support like the NACF Artist Fellowship is incredibly important,” said Frey. “To earn a living as an artist, I often need to remake similar works again and again for sale. At times I’ll have an influx of orders to fulfill, and all my materials and time will be spent creating those similar works. It pays the bills, but it doesn’t allow me to grow as an artist. The fellowship allowed me to pause for a bit, do things I never have before and pick up new techniques for all future works.”