The half-dozen winners of the inaugural Maine Arts Awards will take home a hand-crafted ash basket made by one of state’s most distinguished basketmakers at an awards show on Friday in Portland.

Molly Neptune Parker, a Passamaquoddy basketmaker, has crafted baskets for the six winners of the Maine Arts Awards.

Molly Neptune Parker, a Passamaquoddy basketmaker who lives in Princeton and was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, made individual baskets for each of the six winners. They will be announced during an awards ceremony from noon to 2 p.m. Friday that is part of the Maine International Conference on the Arts, presented by the Maine Arts Commission and its support agency, ArtsEngageMe, and hosted by the University of Southern Maine. The conference is Thursday and Friday in Portland.

Awards will be given in six categories: lifetime achievement in the arts, arts educator, community leader, artist, rural organization and philanthropist. It’s the first time the Maine Arts Commission has hosted an awards program in recent memory. Julie Richard, the commission’s executive director, said it would become an annual event to raise awareness of the arts and its supporters and recognize people and organizations doing exceptional work.

“Many other states have awards programs like this, and Maine didn’t,” she said. “We included the Maine Arts Awards in our cultural plan as a program to help raise the visibility of the arts throughout the state. … While we have the fellowships for artists, we didn’t have any way of really celebrating the work of our arts organizations and those that support those organizations. This program does that.”

Parker, 79, received the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 2012. It is the nation’s highest honor in the traditional arts and recognizes artists for their skills and efforts to share their knowledge with others. For the awards, Parker made what she calls her signature basket, a smallish, colorful and decorative basket that’s about 6 inches in diameter and 8 inches tall. She made each basket slightly different in its decoration, to ensure that each one was unique. Each basket is topped with a floral flourish.

“This is one of the baskets my mom used to make,” she said. “She loved to make them, and it started to be my favorite, too, after I made a few.”


Similar baskets of Parker’s sell for $1,000 to $1,500.

Parker was feeling under the weather earlier this week, but said she planned to attend Friday’s awards ceremony. She said she was honored that the state arts agency commissioned her to make the baskets for the inaugural Maine Arts Awards. She received the Maine Arts Commission’s Fellowship Award for Traditional Arts and served as a master teacher in the commission’s traditional arts apprenticeship program.

“I’ve always been proud of what I do,” she said. “I put a lot of time and effort in the baskets I make, and the demand has increased since I received that (NEA) award. It’s certainly helped me market my baskets more. People just call me up and ask if I have any of my baskets for sale. Most of the time I do.”

Parker was born into a family of basketmakers. Her aunts and grandmother also made baskets, in addition to her mother, and she is the grandmother of award-winning basketmaker Geo Neptune.

This week’s conference begins Thursday with a talk by Maryo Gard Ewell, who works with the Community Foundation of Gunnison Valley in Colorado. She will speak about rural development and the arts. Other speakers will discuss the importance of strategic planning for artists and cultural organizations, how to read and understand financial and other data, and the role of the arts in communities in crisis. Pre-conference sessions on Thursday will include a discussion about rural arts development and a session for arts educators headlined by Kaitlin Young, the 2018 Maine State Teacher of the Year.

There will be pop-up performances by the Midcoast Maine Music Academy, Kafari + Jake Hoffman, Celebration Barn, Golden Oak, Sara Juli, the Portland Piano Trio, and the Oratorio Chorale.


The conference costs $125, or $50 for Friday’s lunch and awards ceremony.

For information or to register, visit

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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