Ever since the first humans tried to pick up that extra scrap of food and found themselves short handed, people have been creating baskets of one kind or another to carry everything from small children to large fruit and a variety of things in between. But after a long history as a functional carry-all, the basket has come into its own as a work of art. These four basket artists create their unique and thought-provoking wares from materials both diverse and unexpected. Reeds and other traditional weaving materials, as well as wire, trash bags and even fish are the ingredients that help make up this astounding mix of baskets.
Caution: artist at play! Perhaps that’s the sign that ought to be placed by each of Shannon Weber’s works. Shannon lets her playful soul dance into each one of her works, reflecting her native heritage. “I weave contemporary vessels in contemporary times using materials gathered from both ancient grounds and castoff domestics,” she says.
Shannon is entirely self-taught; indeed, a large dose of serendipity informs her life and work. She seems to find opportunity wherever life leads her. In fact, she began weaving as a simple diversion when her children were babies and she and her husband were running a fishing lodge on the Oregon coast. Her first big break came literally when a water pipe burst, flooding the lodge. In the midst of that tragedy came an insurance adjuster and his wife, who just happened to be head of the Ashland Saturday Market and encouraged Shannon to sell her baskets at the market!
Shannon spent six weeks making a six-hour weekly round trip to the Market, never selling a piece, until the last Saturday when one regular visitor to her booth gave Shannon her business card. The woman owned several galleries; with her help, Shannon tripled her prices and her first piece sold in the gallery two days later. Shannon has an eye for surface design and her weavings include fun, unexpected embellishments.
An auto accident several years ago caused Shannon to take a detour from her active gallery and show schedule. But throughout her career, she’s spent time teaching and leading workshops. Now living in Cottage Grove along Oregon’s Willamette Valley, she recently cut back on teaching to return to the studio more actively.
“When I’m weaving,” she says, “it’s always the best time. It’s like my best friend. And I’m capable of doing it every day. Sometimes I may be sitting out there in my studio waiting for whatever it is to feed into me. I really think your work should come from you so I’m content to wait.” It’s a philosophy that has served her, and her art, well.
Weber’s designs can be currently found at Earthworks Gallery, Yachats and Lincoln City, Ore., and the Bay Street Gallery, Newport, Ore. You can view her work at www.shannonweber.com.
Immigration gave Vesna Yankovich a new artistic direction. Born in Yugoslavia, Vesna received her degree in Textile Art and Design from the University of Belgrade. She taught for several years and worked in textile and applied art, developing a national reputation and her own program at the University. But moving to Vancouver, BC in 1994 meant starting all over again.
She found her inspiration in the simplest of North American staples: the brown paper bag. “The bag is a symbol of our consumer society,” she says. “I give it an artistic rehabilitation. The lacquer coating [of the wire] that gives the bags their flaming colors makes them tarnish-free and washable. From tiny pouches for crystals to densely woven vessels and airy square bags resembling lunch sacks, my creations are sculptures but could be used as a fruit bowl, candle holders, or a flower vase.”
Vesna uses silver and copper wires in her vessels, weaving them on a fabric loom, and then hand stitching them into their three-dimensional shapes. There is a problem with using wire on a loom: if it breaks, you must start over. Vesna may use that discarded piece in another work though, stitching it to or over another weave.
She often incorporates other materials into her works. For instance, strips of black trash bags may serve as the wrap for cotton weaves, giving a snakeskin-look. She might place glass sticks in between glass rods of different colors so it looks like they are woven into the work. It often takes seven days to weave 10 yards and an equal amount of time to finish her pieces. But it’s rare that she repeats herself. In fact, that’s one of the reasons she doesn’t keep a website. “I’m always doing different things,” she explains.
She’s found a ready market for her work on Granville Island as well as in the States, particularly California and Florida. Vesna admits that it’s easier for American artists than Canadian artists. “I couldn’t survive without crossing over the border,” she says.
Look for Vesna work at Idyllwild Gallery of Fine Art, Idyllwild, Calif.; Canada House, Banff, Alberta; and Van Dop Gallery, New Westminster, British Columbia
You might call Fran Reed the master recycler, using fishskins, gut, lichen, seaweed, and other natural materials as she weaves and stitches together baskets so full of life that one almost expects them to swim away. An Alaskan resident since 1969, it’s easy to see the influence of Native craftwork in Fran’s baskets. But the “watershed” moment in her artistic journey came in 1986 when she saw her first fishskin basket; her life hasn’t been the same since.
Each of Fran’s baskets begins with an armature of willow, cane, reed, or driftwood that Fran finds in Cook Inlet. She then stitches at least one layer of pig gut to the inner structure. The fishskin is the final step in each basket. Fran’s learned to work quickly and to complete stitching a layer in one sitting, even if that means working 10-12 hours straight. Some fishskins, like rainbow trout or eel, have already shrunk by the time Fran finishes stitching. Others, like halibut, might take two to three days of drying to reach their final size.
Each layer Fran adds must completely dry before she adds the next. Finding just the right skin is critical, Fran says. “I have one piece that’s been waiting for a long time because I need just the right red snapper.” Because of the great variations in drying/shrinking, Fran usually has several pieces going at once.
Fran never stops and is always researching, whether it’s Native American textile work or use of fishskin and gut in other Native culturessometimes even traveling to Europe to find her sources.
Fran’s work can be found in several permanent collections in Alaska. She has received numerous awards including a Juror’s Award in Women in the Visual Arts, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Artists Fellowship at Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France, and a Western States Arts Federation Fellowship. Fran’s respect and work with Native Alaskans was acknowledged by her 1989 “adoption” into Tsimshian Killer Whale Clan.
Currently Fran’s work can be found at Thirteen Moons Gallery, Sante Fe, New Mexico and The American Art Company, Tacoma, Wash.
Working in fibers comes almost as naturally as breathing for artist Marilyn Moore. Beginning as a young girl with traditional fiber arts like knitting, crochet, and sewing, Marilyn transitioned into spinning, weaving, and basketry and found herself doing her art as a lifelong pursuit, even while raising her family.
“Making things, exploring my creativity, and now exploiting it to make a living, I never would have thought that I could survive by just living as an artist, but I’m doing it. I feel so fortunate that I can continue with my work.” Marilyn’s not only making a living, she’s also earning a national reputation for her baskets.
It was while pursuing her fiber arts degree at the University of Washington (after her youngest daughter graduated from high school) that Marilyn first began working with wire. Today, she weaves it into shapes that range from semi-traditional basket forms like teapots and vessels to those that seem almost liquid in their fluidity. Marilyn spends from 25 to 100 hours on one of her baskets; she knows because she uses a stopwatch every time she sits down to work.
Marilyn is especially noted for her color blending technique: weaving with multiple strands of fine wires or threads and slowly adding one new strand as she goes. While extremely labor intensive and demanding a great deal of patience, it results in works aglow with color and iridescence that seems to emanate from within.
“Thinking about what can be placed in the basket, what gives life to the inanimate object of the basket, informs the way that I look at my work. Putting ideas into the basket as I work on it has become as important as design and color to my aesthetic sense.”
Based in Seattle, Marilyn keeps an active teaching and exhibition/show schedule. Her work can be seen in The News Basket, Basket Bits, Piecework, Fiberarts Design Books 3, 4, 5, and several other books.
Marilyn’s work is currently on exhibit at Del Mano Gallery, West Los Angeles, California, and she can be reached at www.marilynmoore.net.