Jennifer Heller taught herself how to make willow baskets over 20 years ago. She describes how she harvests the willow bark, experiments with various twining techniques, and designs and creates fine baskets that are both functional and artistic.
Where have students seen baskets? Do they use them in their homes? Have they seen them at art and craft fairs? What different types of baskets have students seen? What different types of materials are used?
Have students view additional examples of Heller’s work and discuss them in terms of aesthetics and functionality. Would they like to own a basket made by Heller? Why or why not?
Have students research the history of basket weaving in Native American and African-American cultures. Identify natural resources used to make the baskets. Discuss the importance of the baskets in the traditions and cultures.
Have students learn basket making techniques and make simple baskets?
Basket making is considering one of the most ancient technologies as well as one of the oldest folk arts. From ancient times, people all over the world have woven baskets to help meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Many cultures used basket weaving techniques for their homes or for temporary shelters. Although baskets are highly functional, even ancient basket makers took the time to make their baskets aesthetically pleasing as well. Diverse cultures used different forms, patterns, and designs to express cultural values as well as for practical reasons.
Baskets are made from the fibers of a variety of plants. In prehistoric times, basket makers used plants and natural resources from the environment of their homeland. As people migrated, they took their basket making traditions with them and adapted them to the new materials they found in their new environments. They often learned new techniques from the native inhabitants.
Kentucky folk artist Jennifer Heller taught herself the art of basket weaving. She lives and works in Berea, Kentucky, and her baskets are much in demand. Heller aspires “to create simple, elegant woven vessels that possess a richness of spirit and a presence embodying the soul of the tree from which they came.” High-quality handmade baskets like Heller’s are sought after for their decorative appeal and are an important part of the crafts economy. Find out more about Heller, see examples of her work, and read her artist’s statement at her website www.jenniferzurick.com.