The Things I Used to Do – Moving Away from Baskets

My Patina Class with Ed Gray

Now the natural materials and found objects are in total control of the form. This was a small hollowed out piece of wood so I could still stay with the idea of containment. I was enrolled in Native American Ed Gray’s patinas in metals class, probably late 80s, early 90s. We turned our copper wire dark with liver of sulfur and hammered sheet copper and brass into bowl forms. We made castings and then of course we made things with the materials. I took this piece of wood, put some bits inside that would make a noise when rattled and did a knotless netting technique to close over the opening. Beads were added to the edges as I stitched into the wood where I had made holes. White horse hair also followed the outline of the opening. Then it was further adorned with more beads and embellishments. Back in those days all non-functional baskets needed to be adorned with beads and something flowing from it in an “artful” way.

Which reminds me of when three of us making these “artful pieces”, went to show our work to a well known natural materials sculptor She advised one of us who wanted recognition (to be famous) by a certain age that she should get busy, another one of us was advised to make up her mind whether she was going to be making baskets or floral arrangements and because I had too much to take with me, I gave the poor woman a slide show. At the tedious end of it, her comment was, “Well, you are certainly diverse.” I don’t think any of the three of us were anything but totally happy that she let us into her home and looked at our work. Whatever she said likely fell on deaf ears. We came away pleased with ourselves which may or may not have been her intention.

So back to the transition away from baskets. Below is a piece I made from birch bark, red pine bark and and the entire skeletal remains of a small snake given my by a elderly student at the John C Campbell Folk School when I first started teaching there in 1988. He was quite right in his assumption that I and my students would use anything to enhance our baskets. I titled this piece “Box for Brian Froud”. At the time he was the author and illustrator of a coffee table book on Faeries. And I thought he likely would not have kept all his notes and interviews in a leather briefcase, but more likely something like this. It was no easy feat for me at the time to actually have a lid fit onto its base basket.

Box for Brian Froud


After moving to the South in 1992 I found an endless supply of honeysuckle to work with. Combined with my husbands castoffs from his wood turning I started working on purely sculptural pieces. Sometimes the barks were used and on others the vines I had access to.

Honeysuckle Wood Bowl


I also used the bark to weave likenesses of the men I met here in town at the local store. Five years later those same men would become the focus of my art studies for my MFA at Vermont College. But here is one of my first impressions. Porcelain clay faces and arms, fabric and old underwear buttons were used with the bark. And after I did this pair I went on to separate the lower area into two legs so I could shape them into stepping and dancing as the group increased to three. There was only these two sets made, not because I lost interest in the men but because I was likely running out of the bark that came from fallen trees in the storms at the time.

Boys on the Corner 1992


I was working on my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Western Carolina University and found other ways to turn some of the men I have known into subjects for interesting art….more of social commentaries on their present circumstances. There were more than just a few men I had met that just up and left home for one reason or another, but all had something to do with a lack of being nourished in some way. So back to the outcast wood turned bowls. And back to an earlier study I had made of the origins of hobos in this country. I had corresponded with Steam Train Maury, a hobo of some renown who told me that once he left, there seemed to be no desire to return. They all seemed to be looking for something that just was not at home. Here is the bowl made that holds nothing along with a serving spoon that has a hole through it. This was an installation made for undergraduate work. The empty bowl on one side of the threshold and five men leaving with their bindles walking away. I loved cutting down the trees, turning them trunks up and wrapping cloth around their body sections with rags and nails also used in the packs (bindles) carried over their shoulders. All done before we had digital cameras so copies from slides is all I have now…..and the memory of these men and their reasons for not being home.

Men Leaving Threshold 1994

Men Leaving The Reason


The Things I Used to Do – Baskets

Dancers Basket


I used to make baskets and occasionally try placing patterns in them, patterns of my own choosing. This one was inspired by the beautiful Native American Baskets with coiled, intricate designs. My original thought was to have three evenly spaced dancers, but rushing right along (the coiling technique is like that….just one more round and I’ll stop and look) I pulled out the maroon colored raffia too early and was hence committed to do something else. So there ended up being one dancer and two shield like shapes.  I was better at working out the turquoise bits near the rim. This is one of my favorite coiled pieces made in the early 80s.

Dancers Basket profile


I started making baskets back in the mid 70s taking classes with Grace Kabel in Michigan. Several of her students went on to teach workshops. I must admit that I never really liked the prescribed products that were such a popular way of learning basketry techniques. I much preferred just handling the materials and seeing if they would fit some idea I had for a shape or purpose. Below is my first rib constructed basket made from some vine I collected in the yard. I was so excited to have done it back in 1978 that I couldn’t wait to show Grace. She was her usual kind and generous self and said something like, “That’s nice, Sandy.” But I could tell she was not quite so sure about its functionality, which back then was the sole purpose of baskets. At the time my fellow students were more concerned with making the seven muffin, not eight, not six, but seven muffin basket where one would fit perfectly amid a surrounding of six equally spaced muffins.

The first rib construction basket forty years old next year


I liked working with these naturally found materials and working them in with the processed rattan reed we were being taught with. Somehow it made the work different and “different” was important to me. In the 80s I was teaching the more adventuresome how to make hats. Here are the two I still have, covered with dust on the uppermost shelves in the living room.

living room shelves angle

Two Hats


There are more things I used to do on these shelves and some are containers and or baskets and or sculptures, all made with found materials and parts that are more finished in appearance. I will save them til next time. It is fun to look at my own history in art and crafts this way and strange how I seem reluctant to let some of them go.