When you hear the word “basket,” perhaps you see a functional, brown woven vessel — on your dinner table, maybe holding warm rolls.
But basketry is an art form that spans cultures, generations, and functions. Woven from straw, fiber, or metal, into pocket-sized or life-sized vessels or sculptures, these are the possibilities of contemporary basketry, a topic The Art League is exploring in two workshops this summer with instructor Tamryn McDermott:
- 21st Century Basketry: Twining and Random Weave (July 29–30)
- 21st Century Basketry: Coiling and Plaiting (August 19–20)
We asked McDermott — who is busy managing a traveling exhibit of contemporary basketry — to tell us more about where this traditional art form is today:
How would you define 21st century basketry, for someone who knows nothing about it?
Tamryn McDermott: Artists working in basketry today work across traditions, materials, and processes.
Some artists not only work within established traditions, but grow, harvest and process their materials. Others find their materials at the hardware store and look back to traditional patterns and techniques, reimagined with a contemporary perspective and non-traditional materials.
Often baskets are thought of as functional and as vessel forms. Many contemporary artists today approach their work from a sculptural point-of-view and create purely sculptural forms, leaving behind the vessel form of basketry, but employing the techniques and materials.
Artists such as Patrick Dougherty have taken basketry materials and techniques into an architectural scale and form. His work was included in the recent Wonder exhibition at the Renwick as a room-sized installation that could be entered and explored. His work is experienced around the globe as large-scale installations. Dougherty’s construction process is similar to one of the techniques we will be exploring in this workshop, random weave.
Who is this workshop for? What experience is necessary? What will be covered?
This workshop is set up for beginners with no or little experience.
We will be starting with a brief introduction to the field and looking at work by some of the most active artists working with these techniques today. This will be followed by an introduction to some of the tools and materials we will be using in the workshop. We will primarily be working with various sizes of basketry reed and natural materials, but participants are encouraged to experiment and expand on traditional forms and materials.
What are twining and random weave?
Twining and random weave are two of the first techniques that I was introduced to, and they hooked me on basketry from the start. Twining is a technique which uses a repetitive pattern and a twisting of basketry reed to establish a sturdy and decorative weave. Two elements are simultaneously woven around the spokes of the basket to create a twist. We will begin by weaving a small functional basket and I will also demonstrate ways to create a variety of patterns and alternate forms.
Random weave requires an initial base structure that is then “randomly” woven into, creating a piece that rarely uses any repeated pattern. Possibilities with this technique are endless and it allows for experimentation and free form weaving, allowing for a very organic, but strong structure.
These two techniques are great introductions to basket weaving with endless possibilities for both functional and sculptural forms.
How did you first get into basketry? What keeps you interested in it?
When I went to graduate school for my MFA in Fibers at the University of Missouri, I taught an Introduction to Fibers class and basketry was a part of the curriculum. My first semester I was shadowing another instructor and creating all of the student projects along the way as examples.
Instantly I was drawn to both the materials and repetitive process of basketry techniques. We were teaching it as a sculptural weaving unit and students really connected with the processes and materials from a contemporary viewpoint. I am also interested in the rich history and tradition of the field that is maintained and has greatly evolved, documented with fragments of our early human civilization.
What other art forms do you work in?
I am primarily a 3D artist, working across many disciplines in paper, surface design, casting, video, performance, and installation. Currently I am preparing and completing research for a solo show scheduled for December at Columbia College in Missouri. You can see more of my work at www.tamrynmcdermott.com.
How long have you been teaching?
I began teaching as a undergraduate student during a Fairfax County Public Schools program, the Institute for the Arts. More recently, I taught both elementary and high school art in Fairfax County and for the last four years have taught college courses in fibers, 2D and 3D design and sculpture. Currently I am working as the Director of Admissions at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and teaching a Graduate Professional Practices course this fall at Tyler.
I enjoy teaching basketry, paper making and surface design techniques in workshops around the country and look forward to teaching two this summer at The Art League. My second workshop will be an introduction to plaiting and coiling basketry techniques.
Tell us about the traveling exhibit you’re working on now. What’s it all about?
I am also working as the Traveling Exhibition Manager for Rooted, Revived, Reinvented: Basketry in America. This exhibition tells the story of American basketry by exhibiting artworks illustrating the cultural origins of the field through the evolution and development of the growing contemporary practice, challenging our idea of what a basket can be. This exhibition of 91 artworks is traveling across the country for the next three years.