A-tisket a-tasket, a green and yellow basket …
Actually, you’ll find baskets of every color and every material imaginable at “All Things Considered: Basketry in the 21st Century,” the new show at American Art Company, Tacoma’s oldest art gallery (established in 1889). The show is presented by the National Basketry Organization, a group with more than 700 members that unites people interested in basketry to provide education and to promote basket making. This large and diverse show has works by dozens of different artists who make their baskets from a bewildering array of materials: pine needles, fabric, wire, cable, wood, horsehair, copper, hog gut, ceramic, dried seaweed and anything else that can be woven together. The new rule of basketry is that if it can be woven, it will be woven.
If you’re like myself and not exactly up to date on trends in contemporary basketry, you’re in for a treat at the inventiveness used by the artists in use materials and creation of form. This ain’t your grandma’s basket show. What you might call traditional baskets — symmetrical, woven containers with a handle — are few and far between in this exhibit. These are more sculptural, made to hold artistic ideals and symbolic meaning than things like eggs and berries.
Of the more traditional baskets, Peeta Tinay’s huge, untitled basket is as close as it gets. Made of reed and cane, the dark, shallow basket is almost 4 feet in diameter and has a thick rim with waves that function as handles.
Pine needles are a popular material among a number of the artists, like Stephanie O’Donnell. Long pine needles are bundled together and formed into sweeping, asymmetrical forms that are fantastic, organic sculptures — some stained in compelling colors.
Plenty of the artists in the show eschew the use of natural fibers in preference for synthetic and industrial materials. Baskets made with steel cable and wire are found throughout the show. It sounds chintzy, but some of these delight the eye in advance of recognition of their constituent parts. I beheld a finely formed vessel that looked like it could have been a treasure from an Egyptian tomb. Closer inspection revealed that it was made of stainless steel cable, brass wire, brass screws and a drainer from the kitchen sink. This is David Chambers’ beautiful “Industrial Bling.”
Karyl Sisson’s “Nesting Straw Baskets” are miniature. Making a pun on the idea of a basket made of straw, Sisson uses vintage paper drinking straws, flattened out and coated in polymer to make these cordial clusters of tiny, delicate vessels.
Also in the small-is-beautiful realm, Julie Henry’s award-winning “Gold Houndstooth Basket,” made of Japanese delica beads of gold, black and red, is a glistening little cylinder whose jewel-like quality is enhanced by its being placed under a small, glass dome.
A personal favorite is Marilyn Moore’s “Offerings,” a beaded, metallic basket made like an enchanted leaf-boat that the fairy folk might ride to the rainbows of the moon. A series of tiny auxiliary baskets, some no larger than bottle caps, are set inside the boat. The colors all have an iridescent sheen, like the carapaces of exotic beetles.
A description and discussion of every basket in this show would end up as a small novella. The American Art Company does an excellent job of providing a quiet, meditative space in which the work can best be appreciated. Carpeted floors make for a quiet atmosphere and the lighting is well thought out. Ambience is added with paintings and quilts (including some by the great, local quilt-maker Toot Reid.) American Art Company is a high-end gallery and prices reflect that. This is an engaging show, sure to engage one’s interest and charge the soul with inspiration.
“All Things Considered” runs through Aug. 26. For more information call 253-272-4327 or visit www.AmericanArtCo.com. The gallery’s Facebook page is www.facebook.com/AmericanArtCompany. American Art Co. is located at 1126 Broadway Plaza in downtown Tacoma.