National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of 2014 National Heritage Fellow Henry Arquette

2014 Heritage Fellow Henry Arquette Photo by Tom Pich_edited for web.jpg

A man wearing a baseball hat holds a basket and stands in front of a lake, with several other baskets and children playing in the background.

Portrait of 2014 NEA National Heritage Fellow Henry Arquette by Tom Pich

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of 2014 National Heritage Fellow Henry Arquette, a Mohawk basketmaker from Hogansburg, New York. Arquette specialized in the utility baskets traditionally made by the Haudenosaunee Mohawks—pack, laundry, picnic, wedding, and corn washing baskets woven out of black ash. This art form was traditionally carried out by men due to the labor required to pound the black ash logs into splints for the baskets, and Arquette was one of the few individuals who knew how to perform this work. He also played a role in protecting the black ash trees which have faced environmental threats due to over-harvesting, pollution, insect infestation, and plant disease. He mentored others in the art form and taught at the Akwesasne Cultural Center in Hogansburg for 25 years. His baskets are in collections all over the world including the National Museum of the American Indian.

In a 2014 interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Arquette described the process that goes into creating his baskets: “I make work baskets, not the fancy baskets that women make. I'm leaving that for them, because they can do that much better than I can. It's hard to get the splints ready, thin it down, and shave it down—both sides you shave down. Then you make weaves. On a laundry basket, the weaves are heavy twine and it's the whole length of the log. [If] the log was 10, 12 feet, something like that, and you get maybe four pieces of it, that's how much you can pull because it gets heavy after. Another thing too, we usually split it before we start cutting it, then we shave the rough part off. Then we use the gauge and make the weaves thin. Then we're ready to start weaving…. My kind of work is time-consuming because when I get it wet and get it to the size I want it, then I got to wet it again when I bend it to make the shape of a basket I'm making. You make the shape of the basket before you weave it. [The white ash] is for when I put the rim on. What I got to do before that, I got to let it dry. I get a wooden wedge with a light hammer, pack the weaves down right from the bottom to whatever height the basket is. Sometimes you don't want to get it higher—I can just use that wedge and pull the weaves down and then it's got to be tight. That's the way [my father] made baskets, [and] my grandfather, nothing changed. There's not too many people can do that, they don't like the work.”

Visit the National Endowment for the Arts’ website to read the full interview with Arquette. A portrait of him by Tom Pich is available for media use. Contact 202-682-5744 to request permission.

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