A Remarkable Australian Basket Maker

I have wanted to talk about an extraordinary basket maker in Australia for some time now. Judy Gray-Gardner. In the above picture there are five of her small pieces that she gave to me a very long time ago. It was so generous of her and I would seek her out whenever attending a basket conference over there just to see what she was up to. Sometimes we would sit and weave together and other times she would show me a technique.

I will talk about each of the five pieces and what I remember about them in a bit but first to the other things on the shelf. The assemblage next to the basket box (which is actually an old drawer) was made by a charming man who bought a church in Campbelltown, Tasmania and turned it into a restaurant. I don’t think it is still a restaurant but when he owned it he collected bits and pieces to make into art. There is a fairy penguin bone perched atop a bit of wood, some bit of leather with eyelets, a bit of barn wood with an old brooch of turquoise pieces on brass. He was grey-haired, bearded as I recall, a good cook, and charming so how could I not purchase an artwork of his to stuff in the suitcase.

Below that piece is a student’s clay olive bottle. I bought it from him at a student show at Arrowmont more than ten years ago. Never used it for oil but keep it next to this gourd voodoo basket from Africa. All the beads on strings jiggle when you pick it up and when opened reveal all the strings hanging inside.  I bought it at a fiber conference for my daughter and when I gave it to her I said, “It’s a voodoo piece. Let’s write the name of someone we don’t like on a piece of paper and put inside then give it a good shake at midnight. In the morning we will give them a call and see how they are feeling.” Her response…..”Why don’t you just keep it, mom.”  I never did try that exercise but with our present white house occupant, I might reconsider.

Other pieces in the box are Toni Rogers’ sticks with burned patterns. These were the first ones I acquired as a gift and bought several more from her over the years. Toni is another wonderful artist using natural fibers in her work. Other than those sticks it is just a magnolia pod and some driftwood.

So now back to Judy.

I know, I know there is quite a bit of dust on these. But I do not let my cleaning lady take them out and I really did not see how much dust there was until I moved the photos from my iphone to here. So just overlook it. This one I always thought she told me was rosemary. Maybe in the middle. It no long smells of anything but maybe dust. But what I like about her technique here is this grass looking crochet type of lashing in different directions to hold it all together.

And this random woven vine ball.

And coiled jacaranda stems. Judy’s stitches are so even and I think it took a bit of strength to keep this shape and control over those stems. Here is the other end that might be the starting point.

And a coiled corn husk ball. Again look at those even stitches.

And my favorite, a red hot poker boucle coiled piece.

You can see that same cord lashing the coils together. Judy showed me how to make this boucle cordage at a basket conference in Tasmania. We had set aside some time for her to show me and she had the red hot poker stems all soaked and ready. With two pieces of the wet leaf in your left hand held tight with the thumb and forefinger, you use the right hand to twist away from you and before you cross it over to the left and pick up that part with your right, you over twist until it turns back on itself. Brilliant! It takes quite a bit of the leaves to do this as it is curling back on itself, but I love the look of it. And it would have taken so much time for her to make the materials for this small ball that is so much fun to hold in your hands.

The last time I experienced Judy’s generosity was when my daughter (same one who declined ownership of the voodoo basket) and I stayed with her in Adelaide. Judy showed us how to eat big lumps of avocado on wheat toast and call it breakfast. With her friendly neighbors Judy taught us how to play Hoy. It was a game with cards or bingo bits, I don’t remember exactly because it was twelve years ago. But the best part was if you were the winner, you got chocolate and if you were one of the many losers, you got hard candy, or lollies as they say over there. How fun is that!

Anyway, I just wanted to show Judy’s work and say how much I love these pieces and her generosity in just insisting I take them. And her time showing me how to do something with basket materials. I will not be attending the National Basket Conference in South Australia this year. It will be near Adelaide and if anyone sees Judy there, please give her my best. And if she has left this world to gather materials somewhere else…..well, she was certainly one of the best that was on offer down under.

Til next time.