RED LAKE (AP) -- Sitting outside under the trees along the shore of Fuller's Lake, Roger Neadeau carefully threaded one of his latest birch bark creations.
"It's all about patience," he said, slowly. "With patience and perseverance a person can accomplish a great deal."
Neadeau, who taught himself the art of birch bark construction, recently imparted his knowledge of the age-old tradition at Kelliher School.
For nearly a decade, Neadeau has constructed baskets, small canoes and picture frames using birch bark.
"It took me a few years to get the hang of it," he said. "But I learned from looking at pieces of birch bark work in different shops. I figured out what everything was and then I just started trying it. I didn't have anyone to teach me."
Neadeau estimates there are fewer than 10 people in the Red Lake area who are well versed in the art.
Just why the art is dying out, he said, is somewhat of a mystery.
"It's kind of a slow process," he said, shrugging. "Like I said, it takes patience, and with persistence a person will eventually get it. When they do, they will find birch bark construction to be a peaceful experience."
For Neadeau, it is also a return to nature.
Besides birch bark, Neadeau uses pieces of basswood, willow and spruce roots he finds in the woods near his Red Lake home.
The process, he said, begins with collecting bark from area trees. To be used effectively the bark must be flattened. Clothespins are then used to form each piece and hold it together. Small holes are then punched in the sides, readying each piece for threading.
Bringing out a few of his creations and setting them on a table, Neadeau explained that birch bark art has been in existence for thousands of years.
"It's been here as long as we've been here," he said, pointing at one of the baskets. "This (birch bark) was all they used before they had ceramic plates. They used to cook in these baskets. They made them watertight by putting pitch from spruce trees and jack pine on the baskets and sealing them with heat."
Teaching classes on the art of birch bark construction and sharing its history, Neadeau said, will hopefully usher in its return.
"It's a connection to the past that shouldn't be broken," he said. "It should be continued and enjoyed for generations to come."
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