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Blog

This Basket Rocks My World

jarrod dahl

     While we were traveling a few weeks ago we ran across a few really nice antiques. Sometimes it's hard to pass them up, even when the antique ale bowl from 1880's you have in your bare hands is priced at $450. I didn't buy the ale bowl. I wish I could have. But we did find a few things that we could afford.

This little birch bark snuff box couldn't be passed up.

Nor could this lidded ash and sweet grass basket.

   Now this, dear readers is one of the simple things that gives me goose bumps! I still get them when I talk about this basket. As I write I look over at it and get goose bumps. I'll explain.

I spotted it from across the way on a porch at a small antique shop that was in a old house. I slowly walked over, looked directly down at it sitting on the floor, reached down and looked at the price tag. It almost seems like a dream now. It was labeled 'reed basket- $8'. 'Hmmmm, doesn't look like a reed basket to me' I thought to myself. I reached down, picked it up, and then looked underneath for the tell tell signs of scraped and pounded ash. Yes, I thought so. I bought it. There was something about this basket that kept my mind focused on it as I carried it over to the van. April and I looked at it again and all I could say was 'This! is a really nice basket!' We drove off. We ended up in dowtown Decorah, Iowa walking around for the Nordic Fest. I insisted on carrying my camera and coat in the basket. Something clicked in my mind as I carried it around.

     April will be exploring this method of production on this style of basket. I'm going to make her a mold and slitting gauge. (I've been after her to use one for years). One of the things we noticed about this basket is that all the upright/stake pieces, weavers as well as handle material come from about the same length material. Another sweet thing about production method basket design. This basket also is one of the most handiest baskets I've seen. The design is really brilliant. Carried by the handles at market, or around town. It fits close to the body but has a pretty high volume. It's exciting. Today I went to the farmer's market to buy some fresh produce and felt great pride as I loaded this basket up with goods. I also got a bunch of compliments about it's design.

     These types of ash baskets are all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Most, if not all were made at road side shops by Winnebago (First Nation/Native Tribal Group) basket weavers. They made 1,000's of them for sale to tourists in the 1930's or even earlier-to present. But I bet most were were made in the 50's and 60's. If you look on Ebay there are always 100's of these for sale...and in shops all over. These folks were cranking them out! Production baskets quickly made and sold off. I read that someone who had a basket from those days found that it had the original price penciled on the bottom.....$2.50 which today would be just under $25. That's something to think about.

     When I was traveling years ago and visited MicMac, Mohawk, and Abenaki basket makers I met and also heard of ladies who put there kids through college weaving baskets. I'm sure these Winnebago basket makers were doing the same. Weaving literally piles of baskets each month. The splints were pounded ash and many times cut with slitting gauges, so that a wide splint could be cut into many weaving strips at one time. The use of forms was also very popular with this production method. The baskets are all the same or similar, there are a few tell tale styles that everyone made. The little sweet grass basket pictured above is another one that is pretty common.  These are the things that help get the basket made quickly as to keep the price low and marketable, at least for the tourists of that time and place. This is the heart of real craft work in my opinion.

     Whether it's a wooden or clay bowls, wooden spoons, baskets of all types, barrels, cloth, etc...These were made at one time in this method. Some are still today. The potter's continue this tradition very well. I'm fascinated by this method of production and simply put I think it is worth reconsidering for many of the objects I mention. This was touched on in an earlier post here. We need to get off our high horse and start cranking this stuff out again. This does not mean that is low quality by any means. Fussing around with 'feeling creative' is not part of this ethos.