Mary Kawennatakie Adams

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Mary Kawennatakie Adams
Mary Kawennatakie Adams.jpg
Native nameMary Kawennatakie
Born(1917-01-24)January 24, 1917
Cornwall Island (Ontario)
DiedMay 23, 1999(1999-05-23) (aged 82)
Snye, Quebec
NationalityFirst Nations Canadian, Mohawk Nation
Known fortextile artist
basket maker

Mary Kawennatakie Adams (January 24, 1917 – May 23, 1999) was a Mohawk First Nations textile artist and basket maker.


Mary Adams, a hereditary member of the Mohawk wolf clan, was born on Cornwall Island[1] at Akwesasne on the Mohawk Nation. Her Mohawk name Kawennatakie means "approaching voice."

Basket making[edit]

Adams learned from her mother how to process black ash splints and sweetgrass and weave baskets. Adams made and sold baskets to support herself and her brother, often by trading them for cigarettes, which they then sold.[2]

Later, she taught basket making on the Mohawk Reserve at Akwesasne.[3] Adams' duel cultural influences from ebeing Mohawk and Roman Catholic is, in the words of scholar Olivia Thornburn, "intervowen with her splint ash and sweet grass baskets." She was active in St. Regis Catholic Church.[2]:90 Métis scholar Sherry Farrell Racette noted Adam's "skilled execution" in a unique stitch known as the "bird-mouth" stitch, and her skill in "texture created by the innovative application of tiny, miniature baskets."[4]

In 1980, Adams presented Pope John Paul II with a basket specially made to honour the beatification of now St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a noted 17th-century Mohawk-Alonquian woman. Thornburn described the design of this basket, known as the Pope Basket, as "highly architectural and almost baroque ... . The design of the basket lid may reflect the papal zucchetto, or skullcap. Also, the shape of the basket is similar to Michelangelo's grand dome of St. Peter's Basilica."[2]:92

During her life, she produced more than 25,000 baskets.[2]:95 In 1997, she received an award for excellence in Iroquois art. Adams was included in the 1998 exhibition Crossing the Threshold, focusing on women artists, at the Bernice Steinbaum Gallery.[3]


Mary Adams was married in 1934. The couple had twelve children.[3]


Adams's work is in the permanent collections of the Iroquois Indian Museum in New York, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, the New York State Governor's Collection of Art in Albany and the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.[1]


Her work was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution; Museum at the University at Albany, SUNY; the Heard Museum; the National Museum of the American Indian; the Pitt Rivers Museum, among other venues.[5][1]


In 1999, Mary Adams died peacefully at her home surrounded by her loving family.

Selected bibliography[edit]

  • "Mary Adams." Smithsonian American Art Museum 2010.
  • "Meet the Masters: Akwesasne Basketmakers." North Country Public Radio Online 2008.
  • "Mohawk Basketmaking: A Cultural Profile (Review)." American Anthropologist 90.1/2 (1988): 234-235.
  • Abbott, Sidney. "Women of the Fourth World: The Women of Sweetgrass, Cedar and Sage Exhibit." Artspace 11.1 (Winter 1986-1987): 22-23.
  • Barreiro, Jose. Native American Expressive Culture. Ithaca, N.Y.: Akwe:kon Press, American Indian Program, 1994.
  • Blue Spruce, Duane & Thrasher, Tanya. The Land Has Memory: Indigenous Knowledge, Native Landscapes, and the National Museum of the American Indian. Washington, District of Columbia: Smithsonian Institution, 2008.
  • Cook, Katsi. "A Voice Coming Towards Us: A Tribute to Mohawk Basketmaker Mary Adams." Akwekon Journal 11.1 (1994): 28-29.
  • Cook, Katzi. "An Interview With Mohawk Basketmaker Mary Adams." Unbroken Circles: Traditional Arts of Contemporary Woodland Peoples. Edited by S. Dixon. Ithaca, NY: American Indian Program, 1990.
  • Folwell, Jody. Hold Everything! Masterworks of Basketry and Pottery From the Heard Museum. Phoenix, Arizona: Heard Museum, 2001.
  • Green, Rayna & Fernandez, Melanie. The British Museum Encyclopedia of Native North America. London, England: British Museum Press, 1999.
  • Hartigan, Lyndan Roscoe. Made with Passion; The Hemphill Folk Art Collection Washington: Smithsonian Institution & National Museum of American Art, 1990.
  • Keating, Neal. Mary Adams: An Exhibition of Her Work, October 5 Through December 14, 1997. Howes Cave, New York: Iroquois Indian Museum, 1997.
  • LaPlantz, Shereen. Plaited Basketry: The Woven Form. Bayside, Cal.: Press de LaPlantz, 1982.
  • Mowat, Linda et al. Basketmakers: Meaning and Form in Native American Baskets. Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, 1992.
  • Porter, Frank W. ed. The Art of Native American Basketry: A Living Legacy. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
  • Pulleyn, Rob. The Basketmaker's Art: Contemporary Baskets and Their Makers. Asheville, N.C.: Lark Books, 1992.
  • Racette, Sherry Farrell. Looking for Stories and Unbroken Threads: Museum Artifacts as Women's History and Cultural Legacy. Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2009.
  • Reno, Dawn E. Contemporary Native American Artists. Brooklyn, New York: Alliance Publishing, 1995.
  • Richter, Paula Bradstreet. Wedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony. Salem, Massachusetts: Peabody Essex Museum, 2008.
  • Steinbaum, Bernice. Crossing the Threshold: Invitational Group Exhibition: Mary Adams Mary ... [et al.] New York: Steinbaum Krauss Gallery, 1997.
  • Stock, Michele. Iroquois Basketry Thrives: Reports on a NYFS Mentoring Project New York Folklore Society Newsletter 20.1/2 (1999): 15.
  • Teleki, Gloria Roth. Collecting Traditional American Basketry. New York: Dutton, 1979.
  • Weatherford, Elizabeth et al. Native Americans on Film and Video, Volume 1. New York: Museum of the American Indian/Heye Foundation, 1981.
  • Young, Jane M. "Film Reviews." Journal of American Folklore 97.385 (Jul.-Sept, 1984): 382-383.


  1. ^ a b c "Mary Adams". Smithsonian Institution.
  2. ^ a b c d Thornburn, Olivia (Summer 2001). "Mary Kawennatakie Adams: Mohawk Basket Maker and Artist". American Art. 15 (2): 90–95. JSTOR 3109350.
  3. ^ a b c "Adams, Mary Kawennatakie". Canadian Women Artists History Initiative.
  4. ^ Racette, Sherry Farrell. ""I Want to Call Their Names in Resistance":: Writing Aboriginal Women into Canadian Art History, 1880–1970". Rethinking Professionalism. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 317. ISBN 9780773539662. JSTOR j.ctt1283kw.15.
  5. ^ Crossing the Threshold: Mary Adams, Wedding Cake Basket. University at Albany Museum, State University of New York. 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2017.