Great Basin Basketmakers
Reno, NV 89502
The tradition of basketmaking has a long history in Nevada. It’s one of the most ancient human crafts. Not only were baskets used for practical purposes, such as storing seeds and carrying water, they also represented the specific culture where they were made. Basketmaking is truly a local art, using materials found and gathered in a specific area. The art of basket-making takes a contemporary turn at the Great Basin Basketmakers Show at the Artists Co-Op Gallery.
Great Basin Basketmakers was formed in 1987 by Mary Lee Fulkerson—who even has baskets in the White House—when she placed an ad in a local newspaper. The guild started out with six members and has now grown to more than 200. In the beginning, there were no formal classes. The group would meet and bring in teachers so they could learn new techniques. Now they have their own book, Weaving Naturally in the Great Basin: A Guide to Harvesting and Preparing Plant Materials for Basketry. The book identifies plants around the area that can be used for weaving and tells how to harvest and prepare them for use. The group learns different techniques—some of the members, including Sue Coleman, are Native American and teach classes on traditional techniques—and the members then develop their own styles and approaches. A lot of labor goes into basketmaking because the artists generally gather and prepare their own materials before they can even start weaving.
“You cut your own willow and you have to split it,” says Cheryln Bennett, a member of GBB since 1994. “You’re just about dead after one of [Coleman’s] classes.”
The group’s members want to promote their own interpretations of what basketmaking means. The show at the Artists Co-Op Gallery features the art of many of the GBB artists, and the variety of work is about as diverse as the membership. Baskets may bring to mind a certain shape or material, but these artists have gotten creative with what the word “basket” really means. While there are recognizable baskets made out of all kinds of natural materials, including willow, yucca, honeysuckle and grasses, some of the artists also incorporate paper and wire into their creations. In addition to the baskets, there are wall hangings, fiber art, jewelry and gourds.
“Some people weave on paper, or they find old tins in the desert, then take sticks and interweave fiber into them to tie it all together,” says Bennett. “It’s kind of endless the things you can use.” She started out as a watercolorist and gourd artist. “I wanted to learn to weave on top of the gourds and then I got hooked on basket making.”
Along with their mission of making baskets and learning everything they can about the traditions and techniques of basketmaking, the group is also interested in passing this knowledge on to others. Their show includes a demonstration during the reception on the techniques of weaving, twining, plaiting, coiling and knotting. Techniques and materials used by ancient basketmakers—and today’s artists—are explained in an educational display that will be up for the duration of the show, as well.
All of the baskets and weavings in the show are handmade. Members of GBB point out that even “with the advancement of world technology, there is still no machine that can make a basket.” The GBB show takes the art of basketmaking and blends tradition with contemporary elements, keeping the craft alive.