New Artifact: Retail Sign

Since 2005 the Leelanau Historical Society has honored and displayed a wide assortment of black ash baskets and quillwork on birchbark made in the northern Michigan region. Former Curator, Laura Quackenbush, designed and curated what we call “the basket room” to properly store and display the baskets and it has been enjoyed by the public ever since. This July, we added another artifact that is not a basket, but reminds us how significant this traditional art form was to the people who made them and the local economy. 

This sign is now on display in the museum, but once stood outside of Bahle’s Store in Suttons Bay, MI. During the 1920-30’s Otto and Lena Bahle, owners of the store, would visit Peshawbestown, where the local band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians resided, to buy and stockpile the black ash baskets to resell in their store. This would occur during the winter months, or the “off-season”, as we refer to slow months when tourist numbers are low. The baskets were stored in the attic of Bahle’s and the surplus was loaded in a truck and Otto would drive Lake Michigan’s coastline up to Mackinaw City, reselling the baskets to other small shop owners for the upcoming resorter seasons. 

The region’s summer resorter era (1880-1930s) saw a rise in the demand for Indian split black ash baskets.  Outside of logging and traditional hunting and trapping, selling their handmade baskets was a critical piece of local native’s livelihood.  What started as a utilitarian need for storage and transportation, these baskets became a collectible memento to resorters who traveled for leisure.

“Real Indians occupy a native village just outside Suttons Bay. Many of them sell colorful baskets, made while you watch, prized by tourists as practical souvenirs. “
-1954 Suttons Bay, MI Centennial Publication.

The basket’s popularity soared and became highly sought after, prompting local store owners, like Otto and Lena Bahle to have a signage out front advertising to the incoming tourists. More evidence of their popularity can be seen in other historical brochures and pamphlets like the Suttons Bay Centennial booklet, published in 1954.

Learn more about the process and people behind this traditional art form in our Traditional Anishnaabek Arts Room & Exhibit.

What is the correct terminology: American Indian, Indian, Native American, or Native? All of these terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or indigenous American are preferred by many Native people. (Source: National Museum of the American Indian)