As a Passamaquoddy artist, every time I create something new I’m reminded it’s not new. Our families and peoples have been here for over 13,000 years and everything I make is building on their legacies. All that comes from me is made possible from their knowledge of our homelands. To do as my ancestors did is to know them. To see the art they created is to hear their whispers. My work continues to let their stories flow while reminding us of the hardships, strengths, and love that allowed us to be here today as Wabanaki People.
Frances Soctomah is an artist who belongs to the Peskotomuhkatiyik – the People Who Spear Pollock. Known in English as the Passamaquoddy, they are part of a larger family called the Waponahkiyik or Wabanaki – the People of the Dawnland – who claim the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Abenaki as their own.
Raised at Motahkomikuk, Frances is one of eleven children who comes from a long line of Passamaquoddy artistry. Her journey as an artist began at the age of seven when her grandmother Molly Neptune Parker – a renowned basketmaker and matriarch of four generations of weavers – began teaching her to make brown ash and sweetgrass baskets. Working at her grandmother’s side, Frances learned to weave fancy baskets in styles passed down to her family through generations while listening to Molly’s stories of growing up in Motahkomikuk. Together they completed several apprenticeship programs through the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, providing her with a solid foundation of basketmaking techniques and space to develop her own style.
The strong connection Wabanaki art forms have to Creation and the stories they carry with them are at the heart of Frances’s desire to create. Adding to her basketry teachings, she became a bead embroidery apprentice to friend and mentor Jennifer Sapiel Neptune, Penobscot master basketmaker and bead embroiderer. Her time with Jennifer combined Frances’s interests in medicines, traditional clothing, and Wabanaki motifs while teaching her to slow down and listen to their ancestors’ messages from the work they left behind.
Frances’s efforts have flowed into other spaces in the art world. While a student at Bowdoin College she completed an internship with the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA) working alongside Executive Director Jennifer Sapiel Neptune to advance opportunities for Wabanaki basketmakers. Inspired by MIBA’s approach to preserve a traditional art form by combining the transmission of cultural knowledge with economic opportunity, she sought additional opportunities to continue her work with artists. After graduating from Bowdoin with a degree in sociology and anthropology, she completed a fellowship with the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts where she focused on fundraising strategies and sustainable programming efforts. Frances remains active in art and museum circles using her educational experiences to support spaces for Wabanaki people to create, connect, thrive, and be seen.