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Just a very quick post to say that we’ve had a really successful first day of the Stakeholders workshop visit to MERL. Our basketmakers have been great – so enthusiastic, and so knowledgeable! We’ve probably looked at about twenty baskets so far (good thing I prioritised them) and everybody’s written such detailed notes, and it’s been wonderful listening to everyone sharing their expertise. We’ve looked at some truly amazing baskets – and some truly hideous ones too! We’re all looking forward to another basket-packed day tomorrow.
MERL 78/48 A Victorian work basket avoided by everyone…
… MERL 70/196 And a folding post office basket which packs down to about 4 inches in height. This is a to-scale model, but the full sized version was never made.
Tags: basketmaking, Basketry, baskets, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Stakeholders
MERL 64/200. This is one of the High Priority baskets. Although we have some information on the materials it’s made from, we have no details about its construction. It is thought that this basket may have been used for samples by the Water Board.
We’re nearly ready to welcome the ten basketmakers to MERL next week to take part in the two-day study visit as part of the Stakeholders project. I’m very excited that it’s finally happening – it seems an awfully long time since July when we heard the project was going ahead!
I’ve nearly completed all the preparations for the session. I’ve finally managed to organise the baskets into high, medium and low priority categories, and I’ve created a recording form which I hope is easy to use and reasonably consistent with forms that have been used in the past. For each basket, I have printed out the current Adlib record and photocopied the form onto the back – this way, we’ve got ready access to the information we already know about each basket and can easily identify the gaps that need filling. There are still a few remaining bits and pieces to do – like making sure there’s room in the Museum store for us all, getting the first few baskets out, and making sure we have enough pencils – but I think we should be good to go on Tuesday morning! I think it’s going to be a very busy two days, but hopefully I’ll find time next week to blog about how it all went.
Although it’s going to be very intense, I think that in some ways the study visit is the easy part of the project. I think the challenging part will be inputting all the information we’ve gathered into the catalogue in a logical, consistent, searchable and user-friendly way (which will hopefully tie into the work I’ve been doing with thesaurus terms as part of the Countryside21 project). I’m also hoping to do some follow-up research in the MERL Library and Archives where necessary. Then there’s the commissions aspect of Stakeholders still to think about, arranging photography of the baskets which currently have no photos, and putting together some form of exhibition from the project – be it online, or in the form of banners for a pop-up or temporary exhibition. But challenging or not, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in!
Tags: Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, Countryside21, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Stakeholders
MERL 90/43. A military shell basket, for protecting artillery shells, dating from World War I.
Following on from last week’s post, I’d like to introduce the remaining five participants of Stakeholders.
Karen Lawrence started her basketmaking with a variety of short courses. She then took the Creative Basketry course at the City Lit, and is now part of a group called The Basktery Collective. She works in willow, rush and cane.
Sarah Le Breton is a willow sculptor and tutor, who creates life size or larger willow animals and teaches sculpture workshops for adults and children. Recently Sarah has started to develop her artistic skills and knowledge by studying and exploring the craft of basketry and in doing so has discovered her passion for preserving the skills and heritage of the craft.
Annemarie O’Sullivan took the Creative Basketry course at the City Lit, and in 2010 was part of the Emerging Makers Programme run by the Crafts Council. She has a deep respect for ancient crafts, and is attracted to the sturdiness of agricultural baskets. Her studies have included coracles, split wood basketry, frame baskets, living willow structures and bamboo structures. Annemarie is passionate about all things woven, knotted and netted, and transfers the traditional skills of basketmaking into larger woven forms, working mainly with willow and coppiced ash. She also works in schools and teaches traditional basketmaking skills to adults.
Maggie Smith became interested in basketry in the 1980s and she later went on to study Creative Basketry at the City Lit. She is passionate about traditional craftsmanship and her work, both traditional and contemporary, is rooted in the traditional basketry techniques. Her more traditional work includes functional baskets and garden structures, while her contemporary work focuses on using materials in new ways, often starting with a found object.
Angie Tavernor is a vet, and teaches veterinary anatomy at the Cambridge vet school. She has a passion for 3D crafts – having tried anything from welding to felt-making – and had her first go at basketmaking eighteen months ago when she attend Sue Kirk’s summer school (Sue is also joining us in Stakeholders). Angie has continued to attend Sue’s workshops, and makes baskets and garden sculptures at home.
I mentioned in last week’s post that I was going to the Basketmakers’ Association AGM on Saturday 19 October. It was a really interesting day, and it was great to meet some of the people taking part in Stakeholders, as well as many other basketmakers. The theme of this year’s AGM was participation and there were talks from Prue Thimbleby, Debbie Hall and Caroline Gregson on their work in basketmaking in the community/community basketmaking. I also met a basketmaker who is trying to make a military shell basket – a basketwork casing for an artillery shell. It just so happens that we have one of these at MERL – and it’s one of the baskets that we’ll be looking at in Stakeholders.
Tags: Angie Tavernor, Annemarie O'Sullivan, Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, Caroline Gregson, Debbie Hall, Karen Lawrence, Maggie Smith, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Prue Thimbleby, Sarah Le Breton, Stakeholders
MERL 86/147/2. A lipwork basket made by Alec Coker and Doris Johnson – two craftspeople who were experts in straw work. We have a few lipwork baskets that might be examined during the Stakeholders study visit. However, these baskets are nothing compared to the impressive lipwork chairs I saw at St Fagans.
Apologies for the absence of a Stakeholders post last week. We’ve all been kept very busy with the Our Country Lives project (for the redevelopment of MERL) – although I did escape on Tuesday to visit St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff, where I was lucky enough to have a guided tour around the basketry collection (lots of amazing lipwork chairs, beautiful cyntells, and some thought-provoking lobster pots). I do, however, have some good Stakeholders news – all of the participants have now been confirmed! So today I’d like to introduce you to five of them.
Bunty Ball is Vice-President and Past Chairman of the Basketmakers’ Association, and was given a lifetime achievement award this year by the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in recognition of her contribution to and support for basketmaking – as an art, a craft and a trade. She specialises in and teaches chair-seating – in cane, rush, willow and skein willow.
Hilary Burns originally trained as a fabric weaver, before taking up basketmaking in the 1980s. She works mainly with willow and hedgerow materials, producing both functional and sculptural pieces inspired by her study of traditional basketry techniques. Hilary is a co-founder of Basketry and Beyond, a voluntary organisation in the South West which promotes the use of natural materials and sustainable construction, and visited MERL as part of the organisation’s preparation for their Festival in May this year. She also teaches basketry to adults and children.
Mary Butcher is President of the Basketmakers’ Association. She was awarded an MBE last year for her services to basketmaking, and became a ‘Crafts Skills Champion’ at the Craft Skills Awards in May this year. Mary started out as a willow specialist, learning local traditional work from apprenticed makers, but now makes traditional and contemporary work in a wide range of materials, and using a wide range of techniques. She is committed to the transmission of basketry knowledge – researching the history of basketry, writing on the craft from both a historical and practical perspective, and teaching and mentoring. Mary has also curated and exhibited in innumerable exhibitions (solo and collaborative) and installations.
Sue Kirk describes herself as an ecological basketmaker. She works in willow, using a mixture of organically home-grown willow (she grows over fifteen varieties) and Somerset willow, making traditional and contemporary baskets and sculptures. Sue also teaches and runs workshops for beginners and improvers.
John Page began his basketmaking career with a City & Guilds course in creative basketry at the City Lit, having been greatly impressed by the Crafts Council’s Contemporary International Basketry exhibition. He now teaches rushwork at the City Lit and coordinates the course, and brings his students to MERL to view the basketry collections. He also edits the Basketmakers’ Association newsletter, and repairs harps.
I’m off to the Basketmakers’ Association AGM at the Artworkers’ Guild in London tomorrow, so hope to see some of you there! If you’re in Reading tomorrow, don’t forget to come along to Apple Day at MERL, 13.00-17.00.
Tags: Apple Day, Basketmakers Association, basketmaking, Basketry, baskets, Bunty Ball, Craft Skills Awards, Craft Skills Champion, Hilary Burns, John Page, Mary Butcher, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Our Coutnry Lives, St Fagans, Stakeholders, Sue Kirk, Worshipful Company of Basketmakers
MERL 70/223 and 70/224. Two of the four ‘Southport boat’ baskets included in Stakeholders. Are all in Southport boats made using the same materials and the same construction techniques?
107 baskets have been initially selected for study in the Stakeholders project. These are baskets that have never been looked at by a basketmaker, or someone with expert knowledge. By and large, they are baskets which do not have one of Dorothy Wright’s ‘Catalogue of baskets’ forms (transcribed and scanned as part of A Sense of Place). With a few exceptions, they were all acquired by MERL after 1970.
107 seems like an awful lot of baskets for 10 makers to look at it in 2 days, so I’ve started the process of prioritising them. I haven’t used any set criteria for these, but have tried to take the following into account:
- Whether we already know something about the materials – bearing in mind that there could be errors
- Whether we already know something about the techniques – again bearing in mind that there could be errors
- Whether the basket has a complicated weave or combinations of weaves – I’m going on a course called ‘How to Read Baskets’ at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse in November where I’ll learn to recognise different materials and identify basic techniques
- Whether the basket is of particular interest for some reason – such as having an interesting use or provenance, or an unusual appearance etc.
There are some baskets which I’ve instantly catgegorised as low priority. These include:
- Spale baskets – the construction/techniques are obvious
- Assembly baskets (such as trugs and Devon splint baskets) – again, the construction/techniques are obvious
There are still some baskets I’m unsure about. For instance, 4 ‘Southport boat’ baskets are included in Stakeholders but are they all the same? Are they all made in the same way using the same construction/weave? Do we need to look at all of them or will one do? And how do I choose which one?
I’m still working on this process – I currently have about 55 in the high priority category (which seems a bit too many), 17 as medium priority, and 44 as low priority.
Tags: A Sense of Place, Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, Devon splint basket, How to Read Baskets, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, southport boat, Stakeholders, trug
MERL 70/149. A ‘malt skep’, used at Warwick & Richardsons Brewery in Newark-upon-Trent for moving barley from the cistern to the working floor and green malt from the floor to the kiln. The ropes are for dragging the skep across the malthouse floor.
This week I’ve started thinking about how best to record the information that we gather during the project. I’ve been exploring the functionality of Adlib, our collections database, to see what sort of things we can record and where. Adlib has specific fields for ‘materials’ and ‘techniques’ which we don’t currently use – these are something I want to experiment with during Stakeholders (which might also benefit other work, such as the craft cataloguing for another project I’m working on, Reading Connections). The advantage of these fields is that they are searchable and, because they are terminology-controlled, the terms used can be standardised.
I’ve also been thinking about how to record some of the more detailed information that we’ll hopefully gather. My current thoughts are to complete a detailed recording form for each basket which can then be attached to the database record, in a similar manner to Dorothy Wright’s ‘Catalogue of Baskets’ forms, but hopefully with slightly more detail. We could fill in everything we already know, add to it during the workshop visit, and circulate to participants afterwards for them to check and add any additional information. However, this wouldn’t be searchable as an attachment but it would mean that the information was there – I need to discuss this idea with Ollie and see what he thinks.
I’ll also need to think about how to record more general and perhaps tangential information that will inevitably emerge – things like memories and reminiscences, makers’ personal experiences, related photos and films etc.
I’ve also been taking advantage of the MERL Library to look for basket-related books and have started to compile a list of key terms – focusing on materials, techniques, and names for parts of a basket. So far, I’ve been through the Basketmakers’ Association’s list of terms, Mary Butcher’s Willow Work, and Sue Gabriel and Sally Goymer’s The Complete Book of Basketry Techniques. If anyone has any other recommendations, or knows of any good existing lists of terms, please let me know!
Tags: Adlib, Basketmakers Associaiton, basketmaking, Basketry, baskets, craft, Dorothy Wright, malt skep, Mary Butcher, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Radcliffe Trust, Reading Connections, Sally Goymer, Stakeholders, Sue Gabriel, The Complete Book of Basketry Techniques, Willow Work
Some of the baskets to be studied in ‘Stakeholders’. Clockwise form top left. MERL 69/196, MERL 70/224, MERL 96/94, MERL 97/94.
For those of you who have been following the MERL Projects blog, you’ll know that we’ve been doing quite a bit of work with MERL’s basketry collections over the past eighteen months. We now have the opportunity to build on that work with Stakeholders, a new project generously funded by The Radcliffe Trust, which will explore the collection in more detail.
MERL has an excellent and extensive basketry collection comprising over 620 baskets, basketwork objects and basketmaking tools. However, of these, approximately 100 baskets have never been studied by a specialist, meaning there is a significant gap in knowledge about these baskets. The aim of Stakeholders is to address this gap and provide much-needed enhancements to the knowledge we hold in relation to the collection, and to the collection itself.
Stakeholders will entail an intensive two-day hands-on workshop at MERL with established and up-and-coming makers to examine this subset of un-studied baskets, to support two strands of activity.
- Strand 1 will facilitate peer to peer (i.e. established maker to up-and-coming maker) and specialist to non-specialist (i.e. maker to Museum staff) sharing of skills- and materials-based knowledge, relating largely to basket construction, history and use.
- Strand 2 will result in the commissioning of new pieces from emerging makers to address gaps and/or produce replicas of vulnerable baskets in the wider MERL collection. These items will be accessioned into the MERL collection.
Stakeholders will not only contribute to our understanding of the collection, but will also enable us to enhance our resources, inspire creativity, and foster community stewardship amongst emergent makers.
I’ll hopefully be posting regular updates on the progress of the project here, and have grouped all previous basket-related posts under the category ‘Stakeholders’ to make searching for basket-related blog content a lot easier.
Tags: Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Stakeholders, The Racliffe Trust
This weekend I went to the Dartington Estate near Totnes, Devon, for the Basketry & Beyond Festival – three days of basket madness on the themes of fishing, farming and fashion. Throughout the weekend there were various demonstrations and have-a-go workshops for both beginners and professional basketmakers, as well as an illustrated talk from Mary Butcher (President of the Basketmakers’ Association, and recent winner of a national Craft Skills Champion award). The Festival ended with a wearable basketry fashion parade, with people wearing things they’d made throughout the weekend.
I was in the ‘Heritage Hall’ representing the Heritage Crafts Association, but also telling everyone about the wonderful basketry collections we have at MERL. Our stand was next to that of Dave French, fifth-generation lobster pot maker. Dave has commented on this blog in the past and shared details of his craft, so it was great to meet him and watch him at work. There’ll definitely be a post in the next couple of weeks on lobster pots, as I learned loads, and need to make some amendments to my cataloguing. On Sunday Dave was joined by two other pot-makers, each making pots in a different way. The Heritage Hall was also home to an exhibition about south west fishing baskets, which was based on some of the research that Basketry & Beyond did when they came to MERL a couple of months ago to see our south west baskets.
From left to right: Mick Male, bee skeps; Dave French, lobster pots; Alan Lander, lobster pots; salmon putchers.
There was an ‘International Hall’ with French, German, Spanish, American, Japanese and Danish basketmakers – it’s surprising how different basketry from around the world can be when it’s all based on the same fundamental techniques. The International Hall was definitely a place that made you say ‘wow’!
As well as the lobster pot making, I really enjoyed seeing how other things we have in the MERL collections are made – such as salmon putchers, oak swills, bee skeps and wattle hurdles. One of my favourite parts of the weekend was getting to meet the craft legend that is Owen Jones, the last professional swill basketmaker in the UK. Owen was featured in MERL’s Rural Crafts Take Ten project, and you can watch a video of him making his basket online and in the Museum, where you can also see one of his swills. There’s also a good blog describing how he does it. I could watch him working for hours and it took me a while to pluck up the courage to speak to him, and in the end I bought my very own swill – I can’t wait to use it!
Owen Jones making swills, and testing the strength of my new acquisition!
Tags: Alan Lander, Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, Basketry & Beyond, Dartington Estate, Dartington Hall, Dave French, Heritage Crafts Association, lobster pot, Mary Butcher, MERL, Mick Male, Museum of English Rural Life, Owen Jones, putcher, swill basket
Following on from my previous post about Basketry & Beyond’s visit to MERL yesterday, I just wanted to quickly post the list of information we think it’s important to record about baskets in museum collections. When I attended the Woven Communities basketry symposium last year, several museum curators mentioned the lack of expert knowledge about baskets embedded in their catalogues, and the need to work with basketmakers to better understand their collections. This was also the case with the collections at MERL, although baskets acquired prior to 1970 had been examined by Dorothy Wright, who recorded information systematically in her ‘Catalogue of Baskets’ forms. Building on those forms and the experience I had enhancing the catalogue records for MERL’s basketry collections (see earlier post), I compiled the following list in preparation for Basketry & Beyond’s research visit and for future research visits by other basketmakers. Hopefully this can be used to inform future work about baskets both at MERL and at other institutions. I’d be interested to know if anyone has anything else to add!
- Standard name of basket
- Dialect names and where they were used
Information about this specific basket
- Creator (who made this basket)
- Place made (where was this basket made)
- Date made (when was this basket made)
- Acquisition source (who was this basket acquired from)
- Acquisition place (where was this basket acquired from)
- Acquisition date (when was this basket acquired)
- User (who used this basket)
- Place used (where was this basket used)
- Date used (when was this basket used)
- Use (what was this basket used for)
- Materials (what is this basket made from)
- Construction method/techniques (what is the construction of this basket)
- Shape (what is the shape of this basket)
- Dimensions (what are the dimensions of this basket)
- Unusual features (unusual features of this basket, compared with other baskets of this type)
- Associated information (anything else relating to this basket)
Information about this type of basket
- Materials (what was this type of basket commonly made from, if specific example is different)
- Construction method/techniques (what was the construction of this type basket, if specific example is different)
- Period in use (when was this type of basket used)
- Use (what was this type of basket used for)
- Distribution (where was this type of basket made/used)
- Makers (who made this type of basket)
- Current makers (is anyone still making this type of basket – who are they, where are they based)
- References (books, articles etc. referring to this type of basket)
- Images and other media (video, audio etc.) representing this type of basket
- Wider historical context relating to this type of basket
- Unusual features (unusual features of this type of basket compared with other types of baskets)
- Associated information (anything else relating to this type of basket)
- Other museums representing this type of basket
Tags: Basket, basketmaker, basketmaking, Basketry, Basketry & Beyond, Cataloguing, Dorothy Wright, MERL, Museum of English Rural Life, Woven Communities
Since February last year we’ve had a team of volunteers working on digitising our old black and white negatives. This was initially part of the JISC project, but we’ve been carrying on the project as it’s a great way to get images for the catalogue without having to take new photographs (which are very expensive and time consuming). We’ve now scanned about 7100 negatives, of which 6100 have been uploaded to the catalogue this week! There are still another 10 boxes of negatives to scan (23 in total), but we’re past the halfway mark.
In addition to the negatives, we also scanned the documentation in the accession files for 150 objects as part of the JISC project. This totalled nearly 2100 scans, and these too have now been uploaded to the catalogue.
And all of the scanning I did for the basketry collection, which included Dorothy Wright’s ‘Catalogue of baskets’ forms and transcripts of an interview with Jack Rowsell, the last Devon splint basketmaker, and slides of Jack making the baskets, have also been uploaded.
So do take a look at our online catalogue and let us know what you think!
Tags: Adlib, Basket, basketmaking, Basketry, Devon splint baskets, digitisation, Dorothy Wright, Jack Rowsell, JISC, negatives, OBL4HE, online catalogue, scanning, upload, volunteers