Red Deerians learned the ins and outs of basket weaving last week at a special course held at Red Deer College.
Crys Harse, basket weaver and metalsmith, taught a course entitled ‘Natural Willow Basketry’ at RDC as part of their Series – Summer Arts School.
She has taught at the College consistently since 2000.
Harse is also an award-winning metalsmith with a passion for surface texture. Her interests include vessel-making and small-scale sculpture. Initially a basket maker, she is exploring connections between metalsmithing and basketry along with her ongoing work with etched and wrinkled surfaces.
Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, is in numerous private collections, and has been featured in different publications.
Harse began to learn the art of basket weaving in 1983 when she was initially taught. “Somebody showed me how to do it and after that I’m self-taught. Since then I’ve taken workshops with people from England, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and North America. I’ve also visited willow farms in England, Italy and France.”
Harse added she hopes the trend of basket weaving catches on again.
“Crafts come and go. Things like basket weaving have had a good run at it for a good 15-20 years and then something else takes over and then it will come back.”
She added she enjoys the art of basket weaving from start to finish.
“I can go out to the river, I can pick the materials and out of a pile of sticks I can make something that I can use and that I can give to people. It gives joy to people,” she said.
“It’s unbelievable when you see what you’ve accomplished. You just pick it up and they have a life of their own – they always creak a little bit – they talk. And everyone has some type of basket in their home. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a basket.”
Her interest in basket weaving came at an early age.
“I always have to make things. I was a nurse and midwife when I graduated from school and in England midwives were always teachers, so I’ve literally taught all my life.”
Harse has many opportunities to show off her skills and to teach others. Earlier this month she demonstrated her craft at the Calgary Stampede.
“I was demonstrating for about nine hours on the last day and a man came to me and said ‘You’re weaving an Indian basket’ and then another guy came and said ‘That is an Italian basket’. All over the world where willows grow, people tend to make the same type of baskets and it’s just nostalgic.”
According to Wikipedia while basket weaving is one of the widest spread crafts in history, it is hard to say just how old the craft is because natural materials like wood, grass and animal remains decay naturally and constantly. Without proper preservation, much of the history of basket making has been lost and is simply speculated upon.
The oldest known baskets dates back to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old and were discovered in Egypt. Other baskets have been discovered in the Middle East and are up to 7,000 years old.
Wikipedia also states that during the Industrial Revolution, baskets were used in factories and for packing and deliveries. Wicker furniture reportedly became fashionable in Victorian society.
During the World Wars, thousands of baskets were used for transporting messenger pigeons. There were also observational balloon baskets, baskets for shell cases and airborne pannier baskets used for dropping supplies of ammunition and food to the troops.
The technique of weaving has been passed along, re-discovered, and expanded upon throughout the years, and is still being expanded upon today. Baskets were at one time used simply for storage.
Meanwhile, as for being an instructor, Harse said she enjoys teaching students new and experienced.
“I like teaching beginners but I also like those who come back and learn more.”