First United States Citizen to Win Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life

Theresa Secord Hoffman—basketmaker, member of the Penobscot Nation, and Executive Director of the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance (MIBA)—has been awarded the Prize for Women’s Creativity in Rural Life by the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WWSF). Ms. Hoffman is one of 33 laureates from 23 countries and only one of five who have been chosen to present their work at the award ceremony this month at the Palais Wilson, headquarters of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. She is the first United States citizen to receive this honor.

The WWSF prize jury, now in its tenth year, was established to recognize the roles of women in grassroots development efforts and is awarded annually to individuals whose efforts demonstrate exceptional creativity, courage, and perseverance in improving the quality of rural life. “The necessity of empowering rural women remains undisputed,” says WWSF Executive Director Elly Pradervand, “and is a central objective in the strategies for poverty alleviation and ending hunger.”

Theresa Hoffman helped found MIBA on a similar conviction—that cooperative efforts strengthen communities and individuals at the same time. Foremost in MIBA’s mission statement, however, is the goal of preserving and documenting the tradition of basketmaking. MIBA is not alone in this effort. The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded significant grants to the California Indian Basketweavers Association, the Northwest Native American Basketweavers Association, the Northwest Indian College for its three-day conference on the art of basketry, and The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, which will archive a major Native American basket collection. In the last two years, Theresa Hoffman’s organization, MIBA, has received $25,000 to support its one-year apprenticeship program and $30,000 for the Next Generation Project.

Because of programs like these, MIBA is credited with reviving an imperiled art. In the last decade the number of trained tribal basketmakers in Maine has gone from 50 to 120 and the average age of MIBA members has dropped from 63 to 43. MIBA has opened a gallery/shop and has published an 86-page guide to basketry and other traditional Native American crafts in Maine. The sales value of baskets has increased nearly ten times, making basketry a viable livelihood. And baskets attract tourists. Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development—like similar departments in many states—relies on cultural heritage and traditional folk arts to market the state.

The ninth annual Maine Indian Basketmakers Sale and Demonstration will take place at the Hudson Museum, located in the Maine Center for the Arts on the University of Maine campus this December.