Stains, Dyes and Paints

Covered Storage Basket with Hand Painted Design
Covered Ash Splint Storage Basket with Hand Painted Design
Stains were swabbed onto the surface of splints with a fiber or cloth wrapped stick, sometimes before and sometimes after the basket was assembled. Usually swabbed baskets are only stained on their exterior. Because dyes are meant to soak completely through woodsplints, splints had to be steeped in dye before they are woven. Paints, or dry pigments mixed with water, oil, size, or whitewash were either applied with brushes, pointed sticks, chewed twigs, or a block stamp made from a piece of carved potato or wood.

Stamped decorations traditionally decorated Native clothing and pottery, but the printed text of the Bible in the 1600's may have inspired block stamp decoration on splint baskets (Speck 1947). As traditional lands were surrendered, some Native communities were destroyed while others were re-assembled, often through the efforts of Christian missionaries, such as John Eliot who established several Nipmuc Praying Towns in Connecticut and Massachusetts in the 1650's.

Although some Natives decorated their baskets with dyed or swabbed splints, southeastern New England Natives usually hand-painted their baskets with specific colors in geometric or floral designs. One Nipmuc woman, Sarah Maria Arnold Cisco, painted her designs on with a home-made cows-hair brush.
Splint Work Basket with Block Stamp Design
Splint Work Basket with Block Stamp Design

Nipmuc baskets were usually painted in two colors, using combinations of either brown or blue with orange, pink or red. Of the groups who used painted designs, the Pequot and Nipmuc were the only ones to use a different color to fill in their designs. Nipmucs traditionally prepared their paints from plants. Poke berry made a blue color, cranberries for red, wild indigo for brown, walnut bark for yellow, and green was made using both walnut bark and wild indigo. By the 1800's commercial colors, like laundry bluing and artists pigments sometimes replaced traditional paints of a similar color.

Splint Basket Decorations Native Designs