Buckle up, buttercups. This has great potential to be a very long post.
Just kidding. It really is a very long post.
As I mentioned yesterday, this past weekend my MIL Nancy and I attended our first basket weaving convention in Atlanta, hosted by the Georgia Basketry Association. And it was so much fun! I’ll just jump right in and tell ya all about it.
Friday we began with a Nantucket basket class with Joni-Dee Ross. Joni-Dee does both reed and Nantucket style baskets, and she is extremely talented. She was a wonderful teacher, too.
A brief history: the weaving on Nantucket Lightship baskets evolved from a combination of Native American weaving and imports from Southeast Asia during the whaling industry’s heyday. They had floating lighthouses in Nantucket, aka “lightships,” and the crews of these lightships would weave baskets to kill the time. Originals are signed by the weaver.
If you made it all the way through that video explaining the history of Nantucket lightship baskets, congrats! Now look at all these amazing baskets by Joni-Dee Ross and Trisha Brown, another talented and super sweet teacher and Nantucket weaver at the GBA convention.
The ivory in the Nantucket baskets is obtained legally, in case your wondering, although the practice began on the whaling ships where whalers would carve ivory from the whale’s teeth. I believe that most of it these days is carved from old piano keys. The scrimshaw work is done by scratching the surface of the ivory and then filling it in with ink.
The level of detail is simply amazing on these.
The baskets above are by Joni-Dee Ross and her husband, David. The basket below is a Nantucket jewelry box that a woman attending the conference wove. DELS did all the ivory work on all of these baskets. There is no other way to describe these baskets other than a work of art.
Below is another jewelry box with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird motif, which I loved. I know my Mama would, too!
I mean, look at the exquisite level of detail on this ivory. So impressive.
Interesting tidbit for all you golf fans: Joni-Dee Ross wove the red baskets on the Merion Golf Course for the U.S. Open this year. There are various legends about why Merion uses baskets rather than flags, and there is no doubt that this makes it a more difficult course, since it conceals the wind direction and strength. Below is one of the commemorative baskets she wove in honor of the occasion.
Often the scrimshaw designs are super personal to the person who is weaving them. The scrimshaw on the ivory below is also Joni-Dee’s. Each flower and bug is the state bug or flower of each state she and her husband have lived in. And it’s gorgeous, to boot.
Wheat’s aunt Lillian is really into Nantucket weaving, and has even woven a cradle for her first impending grand baby that is in the works. She wove Easter basket number three this past weekend, and I die over the scrimshaw on the inside of it.
And this is the basket we learned to weave!
A perfect first Nantucket.
Nantucket baskets are started by screwing a base into the bottom of a mold. Or at least this one was! You then whittle down the ends of the staves (the sticks coming out in a sunburst pattern) and insert them into the groove in the base. Then you start weaving the cane around the staves until you get to the top! That’s Nantucket weaving, in a nutshell.
What’s so amazing about these baskets to me 1) the intricacy of the weaving with such tiny cane, 2) the molds, bases, and lids are all hand turned by very talented wood workers (like Joni-Dee’s husband, David), and 3) they are so time consuming and yield such beautiful, creative results.
Joni got us started, and then I got wayyyyy too into it to take any decent pictures. I snapped a few when I got home though. You’ll be able to tell the pictures I took at home by the much better quality lighting! :/ It was difficult working with that yellow hotel conference room lighting all weekend.
I’ll be sealing this with some polyurethane in the very near future.
The classes are done sort of by a mutual selection process… you list your top 3 for each day, and then you get assigned classes. For Saturday I got a willow weaving class with Bonnie Gale, who is an expert in her field, as well. Her living installations (seriously, way cool) are all over, and have been featured in House and Garden magazine and Vogue magazine. She’s been on the Martha Stewart show, and she’s even woven a basket for the Mount Vernon estate to hold Martha Washington’s letters. I could have sat there and watched her weave all day long. And talk. I love a British accent. She made working with willow look so easy! Let me assure you that it is not. But I found it really rewarding.
Some of Bonnie’s work she had on display at the GBA convention:
Willow was a whole different ballgame from the Nantucket baskets. It’s big, but forgiving. Bonnie described it as “assertiveness training.” You really have to show that willow whose boss, basically.
From a few sticks of willow…
Became a basket! At this point, I was crazy proud of myself and feeling really confident. I was loving willow weaving! It was challenging but fun, and the result was a sturdy, useful, beautiful basket.
But then we added handles.
I cannot emphasize how much respect I have for Bonnie after attempting to “rope” willow. Essentially, Bonnie made some smooth circular motions with her hands and turned willow from stiff sticks to soft rope. Let’s just say it was frustrating for the rest of us. As it so happens, the one male in our class (Bonnie kept saying, “Ladies and Mark! Ladies and Mark!”) and I were the only ones who stuck around the add both handles. Almost everyone else decided their baskets looked just fine without handles, thankyouverymuch.
They aren’t pretty, but GOSH I am proud of those handles!
Saturday night I took on an extra little project while we sat around the kitchen island after supper. I had ordered part of it ahead of time, because when I saw these in the brochure, I knew I absolutely had to have a Nantucket basket bangle.
This bad boy needs to be polyurethane sealed, too, so it will darken some… but basically, I die.
Sunday my last class was another willow class with Bonnie, as it so happened. It was a half day, so the basket was much less complicated. It also helped a LOT that I had gotten real acquainted with willow the day before. This class was for a Sciathog, which is a traditional Irish basket used for straining and serving potatoes.
The weave around the ends of the ribs there is called “God’s Eye.” I love all the symbolism in traditional basket weaving. Nancy took a class on Shaker baskets (from Nathan Taylor), which take symbolism to a whole ‘nother level. According to Nathan, Shaker weave symbolizes infinity and Heaven, as you cannot tell by looking at a Shaker basket where the weave begins, nor where it ends. But I didn’t take any Shaker classes, so I don’t have any pictures… so back to the willows we go.
I loved all three of my classes, and really enjoyed my teachers. I learned so much, and I’m so grateful to Lillian for taking us and encouraging us to join.
Basket weaving is truly an art form. I will never, ever, EVER look at a basket the same way again!
Thanks to the GBA for having such a great event and being so welcoming to a couple of uber-newbie weavers!
For more information on basketry and to find a local guild, visit the Georgia Basketry Association website, or the National Basketry Organization website. If anyone else has any helpful information for those looking to get involved, please leave them in the comments!