Nothing speaks of the traditions of the Maine woods or the mountains of the Adirondacks, like a hand crafted brown ash (black ash if you're from away) pack basket. Imbedded in the very creation of the Native Abanakis (People of the Dawn), brown ash is the most unique and durable of all natural or manmade weaving materials. Nothing can compare with its texture, workability, and visual beauty. Even its smell has an unusual and inspiring quality. Although it has been the preferred material of untold utilitarian and artistic basket creations, to me, its true beauty reaches its pinnacle in the lines and character of a hand crafted pack basket.
For hundreds of years, no self respecting guide, trapper, or woodsman ventured into the woods of Northern New England and New York without his pack. It was as critical as his bed roll or tea bucket. It was his signature piece of apparel.
Many of these packs were made by the guides themselves, but many more were made by the basket makers that lived and crafted throughout the North East. To me, every one was a unique and artistic creation. Each maker having his little variation or particular quirk in the crafting. Unfortunately, most of these craftsman never marked their work, and their styles have been lost over time. Those packs that remain and are traceable to any of these old craftsman, are truly a piece of North woods history.
Being a trapper all my life, a pack basket was an essential tool of the trade. Over the years, I have had baskets by some of the most legendary makers in Maine, both Native and white. Invariable after a few years of overloading with traps and beaver, they would give out. It was kind of a ritual that I would take the old pack and nail it to a tree on the beaver flowage that it finally gave up on, and write the number of beaver I had caught that year on the rim. Some of those stayed for decades. The last one I saw still up was in the winter of '98.
At one point, in the early 80's, my interest in pack baskets became more than functional. And I decided to try and learn to make my own trappers pack. Thus began a quest to learn, craft, and preserve what I came to appreciate as a legacy of the Maine woodsman.
Like with so many times in my life, I have been blessed to have had truly gifted individuals take from their time and experience and share it with me. Over the years, several of the most renowned traditional pack basket makers have extended to me their friendship and knowledge. Taking their time to encouragingly mentor me in the skills and techniques of crafting these time honored masterpieces. I have tried to maintain the integrity of the traditional styles as they were taught to me. Although I have added a few of my own touches, and crafted all the packs to be a rustic, rugged, working basket. Some of them are really best appreciated as a piece of the traditions of the North woods.
In the following pictures, you will find 5 different styles of working packs, and 3 of what I call collector packs, or limited editions. These packs are different from the limited edition packs that I do for the Orvis Company, and are only available directly from me. Why collectors packs?
Some years ago, a friend of mine, Jack Pelkey, who was a very accomplished carver and creel maker, suggested that a few carvings on the lids of some of my creels might add to their character. So began another chapter. After some very patient and encouraging instruction, from Jack and another of Maine's best carvers, Harry Lord, I could at least make some marks in the wood. One project led to another, and the idea of pack basket lids came next. Having used a pack basket for over 50 years, I knew lids were not very practical for a working pack. But what a great way to really enhance a pack for people that were interested in collecting them! So was created my series of collectors packs.
I make all my packs as though they were to be used. each one is finished with pure tung oil, for durability and weather resistance, and all the leather is treated with warm neatsfoot oil, to soften and preserve the high quality leather.
Traditional Adirondack Mountain Pack
Some say you can almost feel the lure and history of the Northern New York Adirondack Mountains in these pack backsets. They reflect years of practical use and tradition. Taught to me by legendary basket maker Jack Leadley, of Speculator, its shape and design lend it to packing your camp stock on long trips on foot. Narrower neck, built in centered harness, of high quality hand worked leather, woven in contoured back rest, all designed for comfort. The lines and characters of this pack, to me, are the essence of the traditional brown ash pack basket. I do make this pack in 4 sizes :
21 inch Adirondack - $375.00
18 inch Adirondack - $325.00
15 inch Ladies Adirondack - $265.00
Youth Adirondack - $225.00
Maine Guides Pack
This pack is a modification of the traditional Adirondack style in that I have given it a little higher belly and a bit wider neck, with less swoop, to make it easier to load. Its designed for the professional guide who always has a full pack and needs a fair amount more capacity. The built in centered harness is high quality chrome tanned leather, and the back of the pack is contoured to fit your back. Crafted with a heavier set of standards and weavers This is a real working pack. If you are a registered Maine guide, or a member of the Professional Guide association, you may choose a moose horn draw with the Maine guides logo.
21" Maine Guides Pack - $375.00
Being a trapper for over 50 years, I learned pretty early on what I needed to carry my gear and pack out a catch of beaver, (yes, we did snowshoe everywhere, before the ski-doo), So this pack is y design. Its wider than the traditional pack, and has a flared out neck to accommodate those blanket beaver and conibear traps. They are crafted with heavier stock and all the corners are reinforced. High quality built in centered harness, and contoured back, make this pack a good choice for any beaver trapper.
21" Trappers Pack - $375.00
Maine Canoe Pack
This is a completely different style of pack basket. Much more typical of Maine. I was taught to make this style by the acknowledged master of basket makers of Maine, 97 year old Larry Hurd. These packs are made in the old traditional technique of building on a mold, and the mold I use is one Larry gave me. This pack is designed for use in a canoe, it is wider weave making it a little more water tight and has a solid brown ash floor and white ash runners, to keep it off the bottom of the canoe. The harness is a heavy woven cotton, so it will dry quicker, and not be damaged by continually getting wet.
21" Maine Canoe Pack - $375.00
Traditional Adirondack with woven pouch and lid
This is a variation of the Traditional Adirondack Mountain Pack. It has all the character and features as the Traditional, but I weave a pouch on the front, (trappers call this a lure pouch), and fashion a solid pine lid wrapped with deer hide babiche. The lid has a leather strap closure with a brass buckle.
21" Traditional Adirondack with woven pouch - $550.00
Abanaki Onion Pack
This is a recreation of a very old basket that was acquired by a friend of mine, from a collector in the Northern Adirondacks. The style is very unique and was originally made by the Abanakis, of Vermont and Quebec, they called it an onion pack, because of its shape.. Although this style is a bit different from my usual interest in more functional working packs, its shape and line are so unusual and esthetically pleasing, I feel that others would enjoy its beauty also. In the packs I weave, I have strengthened the frame and structure more than the original to make them more durable, and I have added a few touches to enhance its unusual character, a deer babiche stitched lid with a carved beaver, and a high quality leather harness. Its designed as a ladies size pack at 15 inches tall.
15" Abanaki Onion Pack - $410.00
Beaver Trappers Commemorative
The beaver, probably more than any other animal has a profound historical connection to the settling of North America. The quest for their fur drove the trappers and traders the breadth of this continent. And helped establish the very foundation of Canada. Those men were of a time and breed we can only romanticize about. But they were not lost to obscurity. There are thousands of beaver trappers that to this day, carry on the life molding relationship between man and his quarry. This pack is dedicated to the trapper, the beaver, and the life style that I have loved for over 50 years.
The pack is a working trappers pack, with a basswood carved lid. The carving is the likeness of a beaver, and the rim is stitched on with deer hide babiche. This is a limited edition, each is signed and numbered.
21" Beaver Trappers Commemorative - $525.00
Pat Sedlak Commemorative, School Boy Trapper
As a boy growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I spent most of my time wandering the hills and streams surrounding my grandmothers farm. Fascinated by anything and everything wild, I tried to catch everything from turtles by hand, to woodchucks in the crude box traps I made. One early Fall day, in the early 60's, my uncle and I stopped in an old country store on our way to New York State, and I saw a book called "The School Boy Trapper". This book started me on a path that has stayed under my feet throughout my lifetime. From catching my first muskrat, to a degree in wildlife biology. A love and awe of the wonders of nature, that still never ceases. In the mid 60's, I had the opportunity to meet the author of that young boys bible, Pat Sedlak, and we became friends. Pat and his book had a major influence on the rest of my life. This pack basket is a small tribute to Pat, and a thank you from every young man that was a school boy trapper.
This 15 inch tall young trappers pack has a basswood lid, with a hand carved muskrat, and deer hide babiche stitched rim. This is also a limited edition, signed and numbered, and I do have a few of Pats original books, "The School Boy Trapper", which I will include with the next 10 packs.
15" Pat Sedlak Commemorative - 400$