2005 Governors Arts Awards
NH Folk Heritage Award Recipient
Claude Smead, basketmaker, West Swanzey
Traditional basket maker Claude M. Smead, 88, of West Swanzey died on September 15 at his home. On October 25th, Governor John Lynch announced that Smead had posthumously achieved the state’s highest honor that a traditional artist can receive — the Governor’s Arts New Hampshire Folk Heritage Award. The award recognizes the lifetime achievement of a New Hampshire traditional folk artist who has made a significant contribution to their art form and to their cultural community.
Smead had been making baskets for 76 years, beginning at the age of 12. He learned from his father, who worked for the West River Basket Company (now Basketville) in Putney. Smead advanced his knowledge of basket making and eventually went into business for himself by opening a store and manufacturing business that he named Smead’s Basket Factory. Smead was perhaps best known for the L.L. Bean pack basket after prototyping his own model in the 1950s. He subsequently sold thousands to the outdoor outfitter over a period of more than 30 years. The pack basket, a woven wood backpack with leather shoulder straps, came to be his signature piece.
Smead worked with three apprentices at L.L. Bean, passing on his knowledge to help insure the basket’s design and quality. In addition, Smead visited many schools, churches and historical societies along with his portable weaving equipment to teach basic techniques and aesthetics. Smead was adept at making a variety of different types of baskets, including lunch baskets, pie baskets, berry baskets, laundry baskets, peach baskets, letter baskets and more.
President of Heritage Mills Gerald DeMuro knew Smead well and attested to the artist’s traditional methods in his nominating letter, “He does everything. He cuts up trees, brushes the planks, and makes his product on original equipment. Nothing is automated; it is the purest form of manufacturing.”
Smead served in the Army during World War II from 1943 to 1946 and was stationed in Los Alamos, NM. He had been a pilot before the war and, following his tour of duty, became a flight instructor at Keene Airport.
“He is an example of a man who has devoted his life to his artform within the soft sustainable envelope of [ New Hampshire’s] Monadnock Region’s forest resources. He brought together history, the cultural community, and an enduring symbol of the New England outdoors.” Gerald DeMuro, president of Northern Heritage Mills Inc.
“When a person buys one of [Smead’s] baskets, they are buying an item made with pride, love and the most excellent craftsmanship. Ultimately they are buying a piece of Mr. Smead himself, a simple man who wanted nothing more than to give back to his community. “ filmmaker Ken Burns
“I believe Mr. Smead to be a legend in New Hampshire and a true symbol of New England culture. He deserves this award for his craftsmanship and contribution to society and culture of New Hampshire. Woven into every LL Bean’s pack basket is the essence of New Hampshire,” Representative Charles F. Bass.