Native Village
Youth and Education news
Volume 4  March, 2011

Museums Work to Credit the Individuals Behind Native American Artwork
Condensed by Native Village

Basket made Connecticut Paugussett artist, Molly Hatchett

Connecticut: About 200 years ago, a woman from the Paugussett tribe wove a wood-splint basket using her tribe's traditional methods. The basket was sold to a farm family. The family took it to Ohio before it eventually returned to Connecticut. Today, it holds a place of honor in the Mashantucket Pequot Museum’s collection.

It's rare that such baskets survive, but what's even more extraordinary is ... we know exactly who made it!  Her name was Molly Hatchett.

Museums across the world are now trying to match individual artists to pieces of American Indian art.  This kind of historical detective work is tough.

“Most Native American art collected before the 20th Century, no one ever recorded who made it,” says Stephen Cook from the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.

Cook says being able to match the artifact with a particular Native American artist or artisan “will help the entire field immensely.” Other pieces of pottery or basketry or bead work can be compared to the artists' works. That may help determine the place and time the artifact was created.

Displays from
Mashantucket Pequot Museum

The Paugussets originally lived in the area where the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers joined. Molly Hatchett lived there for many years and sold her baskets. She impressed people so much that many wrote down information about her.She is described  as a “tall and powerful woman, with piercing black eyes, and long black hair falling over her shoulder.”

Molly lived and traveled in western Connecticut, and a home was built for her on Two Mile Brook in Derby.

Only three or four of Molly's baskets are now known. The one in the Mashantucket Museum has written on the front:  “Basket made about 90 years ago in Derby Conn. By a Squaw Named Mollie Hatchett.”

Hatchett also made small “basket rattles” for babies which she gave or sold to others.  Now, when a similar style of rattle is discovered, it’s cautiously labeled as a “basket baby rattle in the style of Molly Hatchett,” Cook says.

Modern technology helps researchers gather information about American Indian artwork, says Cook, “especially in the area of material science.”

For example, chemical compounds in pigment mixtures that decorate baskets and pottery can be compared to pigments in other pieces of artwork. This might determine when it was made and/or where it came from.

Fingerprint identification might also be a tool to identify individual artists. Some Native American pottery has marks that “suggest a thumb print.” These were left in the clay by the person who made the item.

The Internet is another essential tool for researchers. Native American items — particularly from early New England  — are found in other museum collections. European invaders from Canada, England, Scotland, France and European nations were among the first to reach the New World. They explored and exploited the people and continent and took many thousands of items back home with them. 
These collections are often available online, including original documents which provide details about the items.

Courtesy, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution [

“Some of the earliest non-archaeological collections for southern New England are in England,” says Cook, who goes through these collections for possible matches. This saves vast amounts of time and expense.

Native American art researchers have begun to follow the practice of European art historians. This practice identifies artworks made by the same master artist, even if the actual name is unknown.

Cook warns that the practice is controversial because of the danger of making mistakes. With Native American art, where very few pieces of a particular type from a particular tribe or region are available, the risks of error are even higher.

“It’s a very, very difficult thing,” says Cook.

Which makes it even more astounding that we know about Molly Hatchett and those baskets of hers.

 Volume 1
On Day Dedicated to Native Americans, A Move to Honor Hopi Tribe's Code Talkers
New Office to Serve as Advocates for Tribal Veterans 
Metis Livid About Proposed Status System
Saying NO to $1 Billion Dollars
New Images of Remote Brazil Tribe
Amazonian Indians More Advanced Than We Knew
Australia's Aborigines to Launch Political Party
Irish Travellers to Shed Light on Indigenous Research

Volume 2
Berenstain Bears to Speak Lakota
Students Tell Saanich Myths Through Computer Animation  
Children's Book Exhibit Depicts Native Path to Diabetes Prevention
Mentoring Program Coming to Kodiak
100% Knights to Create Career Pathways for Aboriginal Students
Arizona Culinary School Recruits American Indians, Now Available for Federal Financial Aid
Book Lets Great Lakes American Indians Tell Their Own Story
Volume 3
UN Declares 2011 the "International Year of Forests"
Think the Super Bowl Battle was Big? Fight Over Conservation Funding Looms Larger
Limit Set for Native Polar Bear Hunters Under International Treaty
White House: Tribes Fare Well in 2012 Budget
Ziebach County South Dakota: America's Poorest County
Top 5 Obama Regulations that American Businesses Hate Most
The Top 11 Corporate Cash Hoarders
Volume 4
Donna Karan Collaborates With an Indigenous Artist as Part of "Nomad Two Worlds" Art Exhibit
Alligator Wrestling and the Men Who Do It
Custer Flag to Be Sold by DIA
Museums Work to Credit the Individuals Behind Native American Artwork
All My Relations Gallery Showcase for Native Art
Grammy Winner Helps Locals Build, Understand Flutes
German TV Crew Films Program About Nokota Horses

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