The art of weaving
What: Naturally Speaking: A Panel of NW Artists Discuss Fine Art Basketry in the 21st Century
When: 2 pm Sat., Feb. 24
Where: Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall, 121 Prospect St.
Cost: Included with admission
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Pardon the pun, but I was a real basket case when I arrived to view “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America” on a recent Wednesday afternoon at Whatcom Museum’s Lightcatcher Building.
I was leaving for a two-week tropical vacation the following day, and had delayed my museum experience until the last possible moment due first to an ill-timed basement flooding the previous Sunday, and then by an editorial deadline.
To say I was stressed out is putting it mildly. But as soon as I walked into the “Basketry in America” exhibit I could feel my blood pressure drop. It turns out it’s difficult to be on edge when you’re surrounded by varying incarnations of baskets that cross decades and encapsulate a country’s history of weaving.
The 93 objects spanning in time from the basket’s origins in Native American, immigrant and slave communities to its current cache as part of the contemporary fine art world weren’t just interesting in a historical context, they were also beautiful to behold.
Split into five sections—Cultural Origins, New Basketry, Living Traditions, Basket as Vessel, and Beyond the Basket—visitors can views everything from shallow coiled baskets made between 1890-1910 out of willow and devil’s claw; to a basket made out of organic and industrial materials in 2012 that is described as resembling a nuclear explosion (“Brendan Basket #309); to a plaited mulberry bark basket crafted in 1985; egg baskets; a sharply industrial basket constructed in memory of the artists’ father from materials collected while cleaning out his father’s garage; a bust portrait of Eve using using grapefruit and cantaloupe peel, yellow cedar bark, ostrich shell beads and waxed linen; and so much more.
A press release pertaining to the traveling exhibit on display through May 6 notes that some of the more contemporary artists are set on maintaining or reviving traditions practiced for centuries, while others combine age-old techniques with nontraditional materials in order to generate their versions of cultural commentary.
“Baskets convey meaning through the artists’ selection of materials; the techniques they use; and the colors, designs, patterns and textures they employ,” say co-curators Jo Stealey and Kristin Schwain. “This exhibition will feel both familiar and alien to visitors. Some objects are very utilitarian while others defy every idea you might have about what a basket could be.”
I didn’t have time to walk the block to Old City Hall to view “Hidden in the Bundle: A Look Inside the Whatcom Museum’s Basketry Collection,” but was told by a volunteer at the Lightcatcher’s front desk that it was worth a look-see, as it features plenty of pieces from the museum’s First Nations collection, representing different eras and cultures and highlighting the “unique and unexpected.”
I’ll be back from my trip just in time for a Sat., Feb. 24 panel discussion at the Old City Hall moderated by Northwest Designer Craftsmen and featuring internationally recognized Northwest fine art basketry artists such as Polly Adams Sutton, Jan Hopkins, Jill Nordfors Clark, Katherine Lewis, Lanny Bergner, Charissa Brock, Dorothy McGuinness, Nancy Loorem Adams, Danielle Bodine, Leon Russell, Judy Zugish, and Bill Roeder, who will respond to questions about their use of techniques, materials and influences.
If I make it, I’ll also peruse “Hidden in the Bundle” at my leisure—when I won’t be such a basket case.
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