© Memorial Hall Museum, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
detail from Gertrude Porter Ashley and her Children, by Frances and Mary Allen, 1895.
Sometime between the recording of the 1900 and the 1910 census, Gertrude Porter Ashley changed her profession from music teacher to maker of "Arts and Crafts" baskets and candles. Having learned the art of raffia basket making, a craft that Madeleine Yale Wynne had first introduced to Deerfield, Massachusetts, Gertrude Ashley committed her ample store of energy and enthusiasm to the effort. She was the acknowledged leader of the Pocumtuck Basket Makers, and displayed and sold the group's hand-dyed raffia baskets at the "Red Shop" located beside her home.
In addition to designing and fashioning the accomplished "Landscape Basket," and exhibition pieces into which scenes were meticulously woven, Ashley also published widely on the art. In "Raffia Basketry as a Fine Art" (co-authored with her daughter Mildred), she argued that, "the Raffia Basket in its highest development, as to workmanship, form, design and color, is an expression of true art...obtained through the study of other forms of arts such as painting, tapestry, pottery, and the like."1 Her "Portfolio of Designs for Raffia Basketry" was published in 1917; "Raffia Basketry as an Art" appeared in 1921 and was reprinted in 1922, and "Color Studies for Raffia Baskets" dates to 1924. She and her daughter exhibited baskets at the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915 and at the Arts Institute of Chicago, where they won a bronze medal in 1917. In 1916, Gertrude was awarded the membership designation of Master from the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston.
In 1929, Gertrude Ashley reflected upon her chosen craft in a talk which she presented to a group of Cape Cod craftsmen, "The opportunity for unlimited variation in color as well as for design has always appealed very strongly to me. To create something never before attempted has carried on the interest."2
For over two decades, between the years 1903 and 1924, Gertrude played an active role in the Society of Deerfield Industries, first as its director of raffia, and later as a secretary and a first vice president. She also frequently served on its executive committee and, from 1918 to 1924, was its president.