Calling all basketeers

Great Basin Basketmakers

Cheryln Bennett makes baskets out of material she harvests from her own backyard: gourds and willow branches.

Cheryln Bennett makes baskets out of material she harvests from her own backyard: gourds and willow branches.

Photo By David Robert

From Nova Scotia to South America, the news has spread. Basketmakers, weavers and gourd artists plan their treks to Reno for a basketry convention this July, while more than a few locals talk with excited anticipation.

“Basketry goes back 10,000 years,” explains Mary Lee Fulkerson, an artist and author, and founder of the Great Basin Basketmakers, the hosting group for the first convention of its kind. “I think it is really interesting that we’re continuing it on.”

The Great Basin Basketmakers’ Weave-In: A Fresh Approach is scheduled for July 15-18 and promises to be unique and inviting, showcasing a range of artistic design, craft and function, as well as offering instruction for both beginning and more seasoned artists. Registration to participate in the event ends March 31, and participants are still needed to make the event a success.

“Basketmakers are always thirsting for someone to share the knowledge with,” says Cheryln Bennett, a Reno artist and member of the Great Basin Basketmakers. Sitting at home in her studio and surrounded by baskets and gourds of nearly every shape and size, Bennett speaks as she alternates between drilling one gourd and applying coats of paint to the willow that outlines another.

“There’s just something about it—making baskets is a time to pause and reflect on tradition,” she says. “I feel pleased about learning a skill that should never go away.”

Formerly a watercolorist, Bennett found basketry and decided to join Great Basin Basketmakers 10 years ago. She has since created hundreds of baskets, gourds and wreaths. Though she displays and sells work at the Reno Artists Co-op and the Nevada Museum of Art, it seems as if every one of her creations can be found at home, decorating walls, resting under tables and randomly sneaking out from behind doors.

“When you start to retire, you find that you can do things you didn’t have the time for,” she says. “My love, probably, is basketmaking and gourds.”

“Labor of love” might be a more appropriate choice of words, as Bennett can put in up to 60 hours a week on her artwork and still find time to volunteer for other local organizations, teach classes, and grow her own materials in her backyard. In fact, she has just harvested the 400-500 sticks of willow she planted. The willow that she cuts, along with honeysuckle, yucca, cattail and tule, is used in her weaving either as primary material or for accents and detailing.

Bennett’s personal style stems from her watercolor experience, and illustrative figures and forms are the focus of much of her gourd work. With such a craft-driven medium, it might seem easy to fall into clichéd, craft-fair design, but Bennett, as she puts it, doesn’t do the “cutesy-looking things.” Her imagery is incorporated from her time spent volunteering and recording rock art at petroglyphic sites in Northern Nevada.

“We’re not ClubMed people,” she says, excited about the Basketmakers’ upcoming convention, “We’re earth people, working with baskets, gourds and nature.”

And whether it’s basketry and woven objects, narrative drawings or gourds, Bennett’s works possess that earthy ruggedness, yet still maintain the look and feel of a well-polished skill.