2014 NEA National Heritage Fellow
Hogansburg, New York
The NEA National Heritage Fellowships
recognize the recipients' artistic excellence and support their
continuing contributions to our nation's traditional arts heritage.
information on Sept 17th award ceremony and Sept 19th concert
master basketmaker, Henry Jake Arquette specializes in the utility
baskets traditionally made by the Haudenosaunee Mohawkspack,
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 today Arquette is one of the few individuals who
knows not only how to perform this work, but also how to locate
the correct black ash trees that face environmental threats.
Arquette, whose Mohawk name is Atsienhanonne which means "fire
keeper," was born in 1931 and grew up on the Akwesasne Reservation,
located along the St. Lawrence River in the far north of New York
State bordering Canada. He learned to make baskets from his father
and grandfather and recalls that as a child he could hear the sound
of men pounding black ash logs to make splints for the baskets from
miles around. Forgoing power tools for the implements that were
passed down to him by his father and grandfather, Arquette creates
his utility baskets out of black ash splints with sturdy handles
made of white ash.
A retired ironworker who spent much of his career working on
bridges and skyscrapers across the country, Arquette supplemented
his income during hard times by making and selling his baskets.
In 1993, Arquette retired from ironworking and began making baskets
full time. Today he is a revered community elder, and his skills
as a master basketmaker are known across the region. He has mentored
others in the art form and taught at the Akwesasne Cultural Center
in Hogansburg, New York, for 25 years. His baskets are in collections
all over the world including the National Museum of the American
In 1994, he and other Mohawk basketmakers received the Traditional
Arts of Upstate New Yorks North Country Heritage Award, and
in 2004 he was recognized individually with the same award. His
baskets are in collections around the world, including the National
Museum of the American Indian.
Environmental threats such as over-harvesting, pollution, insect
infestation, and plant disease have threatened the black ash trees
on which this art form depends. Arquette has played an advocacy
role in protecting this resource. He was recognized by the National
Aboriginal Forestry Association with the Ross Silversides Forestry
award in 2001.