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Basketry artists weave stories - and you can too

Take a basket-making workshop on March 24 at the Whatcom Museum’s Basket Day. Participants can sign up for one of four workshops and learn how to make either a traditional birch bark basket, a Shaker-style banded bowl, a basic diamond-embellished market basket, or a twined vessel covered in transparent rice paper.
Take a basket-making workshop on March 24 at the Whatcom Museum’s Basket Day. Participants can sign up for one of four workshops and learn how to make either a traditional birch bark basket, a Shaker-style banded bowl, a basic diamond-embellished market basket, or a twined vessel covered in transparent rice paper. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

On first thought, baskets might bring functionality to mind. As vessels for carrying berries, produce, skeins of yarn or tools, the historical use of baskets was very utilitarian, but even these baskets could be beautiful works of art. As modern techniques, materials, and styles were tried and tested, baskets moved from utility to works of art.

The Whatcom Museum is currently hosting three basketry exhibitions at the Lightcatcher building and Old City Hall that display a broad variety of baskets, some stretching the imagination in style and form. For those who are intrigued about this art form, a number of speaker events and hands-on programs will teach people more about the history and art of this medium.

On Saturday, Feb. 24 from 2-3 p.m. members of Northwest Designer Craftsmen will participate in a moderated panel in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall to discuss fine art basketry of the 21st century. Moderated by Layne Goldsmith, fiber arts professor emeritus at the University of Washington, panelists will respond to questions about their use of techniques, materials, and influences. Participating artists include 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, many of who are featured in the exhibition “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America” now showing at the museum’s Lightcatcher building.

Northwest artists Lisa Telford and Lanny Bergner will be giving a free presentation in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall on Thursday, March 8, noon-1 p.m. focused on their artwork. Both artists have pieces featured in “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented.” Lanny Bergner is a mixed-media sculptor, installation, fiber, and sculptural basketry artist from Anacortes who uses materials such as industrially woven bronze, brass, aluminum and stainless steel mesh, and wire. Lisa Telford is a Git’ans Git’anee Haida weaver, born in Ketchikan, Alaska, who harvests and prepares all of the materials she uses. Her piece “Evening Out,” a pair of high heels woven out of red and yellow cedar bark, attracts attention for its unique form.

For those seeking a more hands-on approach to learning basket making techniques, the museum is hosting “Basket Day” on Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. in the Lightcatcher. Participants can sign up for one of four workshops and learn how to make either a traditional birch bark basket, a Shaker-style banded bowl, a basic diamond-embellished market basket, or a twined vessel covered in transparent rice paper. Registration is found online at brownpapertickets.com/event/3233038. For family-friendly, hands-on activities, Community Art Museum Day on Saturday, April 21, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. will offer demonstrations, children’s activities and guided tours of the basketry exhibitions.

One of the best ways to learn more about an exhibition is from the curators. “Rooted, Revived, Reinvented” co-curators Kristin Schwain and Jo Stealey, from the University of Missouri, will be giving a slideshow presentation in the Rotunda Room of Old City Hall followed by a gallery tour of the exhibition at the Lightcatcher on Saturday, April 14, 1-3:30 p.m. The visiting curators will focus on the transformation of basketry from 1890 to 1940.

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Katherine Lewis’ Panier a Jour basket is featured in the Whatcom Museum’s “Gathered Together” exhibition at Old City Hall. Katherine Lewis Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The Whatcom Museum seems to be having basket mania with all of these programs and exhibitions. For more details and admission prices visit the museum’s online calendar at whatcommuseum.org/events.

Christina M. Claassen is Whatcom Museum’s marketing and public relations manager. Reach her at cmclaassen@cob.org.

Whatcom Museum

The non-profit Whatcom Museum is operated by the Whatcom Museum Foundation and the city of Bellingham. The Old City Hall building at 121 Prospect St. and the Lightcatcher Building at 250 Flora St. are open noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. The Family Interactive Gallery, located inside the Lightcatcher, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays to Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission, good for all sites in a day, is $10 general, $8 youth (6-17 years) and student, senior or military, $5 children (2-5 years). Memberships start at $50 and include free museum admission.

The museum offers a variety of programs and exhibitions about art, nature and Northwest history. Its collections contain more than 200,000 artifacts and art of regional importance, including a photographic archive. The museum is accredited nationally by the American Alliance of Museums and is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate.

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