Gabriel Frey
Traditional Basketmaker
Orono, ME
2019 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Barr Foundation.

Gabriel Frey is a 12th generation Passamaquoddy black ash basketmaker, specializing in utility baskets with a modern approach. Growing up in a basket making family, Frey learned traditional weaving techniques at a young age as well as the importance of self-expression through the traditional basket making art form—a skill he has been honing over the past 18 years.

Black ash basket making and the black ash tree hold spiritual, cultural, and economic significance to him and his Passamaquoddy community. His artistic process includes locating and harvesting black ash trees from the woods, processing black ash logs, and weaving black ash materials into basket forms, embedding his culture within each basket. The recent introduction of the invasive Emerald Ash Borer has threatened the cultural practice of black ash basking making, which makes the preservation and dissemination this tradition even more pivotal to the cultural landscape. While his approach to basketmaking is firmly rooted in his indigenous tradition, he is pushing the art form into new realms of functional wearable art pieces. By incorporating leather, natural dyes, and silversmithing, he transforms how people envision the functionality of his artwork. Frey’s motivation is producing beautiful, wearable, and functional art for daily use that embodies the Passamaquoddy worldview, inviting each person who buys a basket to feel and experience this culture every day.

Portrait photo by Roger Merchant.

  • Black ash purse. Dyed black ash, leather liner, leather shoulder strap, leather lid.
  • Black ash purse. Dyed black ash, leather liner, leather shoulder strap, leather lid.
  • Small black ash pack basket with a herringbone front. Dyed black ash (combination of Indigo, Osage, Cochineal, Madder root, Fermented Rock Tripe, and Logwood pigments), black leather, leather lid, leather straps.
  • Traditional Passamaquoddy black ash pack baskets. Black ash, leather straps.
  • Small black ash market basket. Black ash, swivel handles.