People

Pocumtuck Basket Makers

1902-1913

Pocumtuck Basket Makers

© Memorial Hall Museum, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association

Pocumtuck Basket Makers, by Frances and Mary Allen, 1901.

In 1902, the Greenfield Recorder announced, "Every one may be a basket-maker in Deerfield and nearly every woman is. Grandmother and mother and daughter, and the Polish servant in the kitchen, are in the democracy of weavers of the imported raffia, the panama straw that used to be wrought into hats at every farmhouse, and most interesting of all the native grasses, gathered in the Deerfield meadows and carrying the sweetest odors of the field."1

The art of raffia basketry was first introduced to Deerfield by the Arts and Crafts leader, Madeline Yale Wynne who wove an example on the train as she made her way from Chicago to western Massachusetts for the summer. "Not many days after her arrival," according to Gertrude Ashley, "a group of women gathered on her attractive back porch to learn the lazy squaw stitch which at the time was the only one attempted."2

The number of women who took up the craft quickly peaked and then, just as rapidly, diminished. While in 1903 there had been about thirty raffia basket makers working in Deerfield, by 1907 "only three Deerfield families" were doing "much at this craft."3

Constructed of coils made from strips of dried raffia or other grasses threaded onto a needle, the Pocumtuck Baskets were known for the more or less intricate patterns woven into their multi-hued designs. The group met monthly, and in 1903, they chose as their trademark, a profile of a Native man above their name, POCUMTUCK, after a western Massachusetts Native American tribe. Their work could be purchased in Gertrude Ashley's Red Shop.

The Pocumtuck Basket Makers were one of two basket making groups active in the Society of Deerfield Industries. The other group, the Deerfield Basket Makers, worked with palm leaf, willow, and reeds.

  1. Greenfield Recorder July 23, 1902.
  2. Gertrude Ashley,"Notes on Deerfield Industries for Cape Cod Talk, May 25, 1929," Section II, p. 2, Arms Family Papers, Box 10, PVMA Library.
  3. Edward Kirk Titus, "Do Arts and Crafts Pay?" Boston Evening Transcript, 1907.