Photo Courtesy Les Corbin Collection
The Business of Summer
Mohawks and Algonquin had been making baskets for millennia when white settlers and tourists started coming to the Thousand Islands in the mid-nineteenth century. Original basket types had been utilitarian, used for washing corn, storing goods, or carrying things, as in the case of the familiar packbasket. Some were decorated, many were plain.
Basketmakers were quick to begin making baskets with plenty of color and ornamentation for the new buyers. They dyed their splints (green in the basket to the left), wove with braided lengths of aromatic sweetgrass, and used fancy stitches as you see in the modern baskets below.
Makers also came up with new shapes for new uses. These "fancy baskets" might be designed for sewing, as is this one, hanging spectacles on the wall at night, storing handkerchiefs, or even keeping your whisk broom out of the way.
The photograph at the top of this page shows the Clayton shop of the Bush family in the early twentieth century. John Bush was a Caughnawaga Mohawk who sold baskets he and his daughter made during the winters, supplemented from baskets made at St. Regis.
There was at least one other basket retailer, The St. Regis Indian Trading Company in Hogansburg, as well as Indians living in North Country communities who supplied their neighbors.