There has been an abundance of spiders in the area where I live this Fall, and I love to observe their webs popping up all over, as long as they aren’t over my kitchen sink (which has happened and then they have to go). They work so hard weaving their delicate, deadly baskets. They catch a few flies, dismantle the web, and start all over again.
This photo made me think about the web of my own life. Weaving a thing of beauty, catching something or someone in it, enjoying it all for a while, experiencing disintegration, and then repeating the process again and again. After so many years of trying, of creating, of exploring, I wonder if I am learning anything after all. Are my patterns any different than they were thirty years ago? Has the web changed at all?
I am laughing at myself as I write this, knowing that this true and not true all at the same time. Still laughing. Knowing that I am both the spider and the fly.
These five baskets are part of a new series that I’ve been working on for the past few months. They are based on a basket by Donna Choke from the Chehalis tribe in the Pacific Northwest. I saw a version of it that a good friend of mine had made, and fell in love with its loose, appealing style. And I also fell in love with its name.
They are called Crazy Lady Baskets!
My versions are actually somewhat more refined and labor intensive than the one I had seen, but nonetheless they are still quite funky and playful. The basic idea is to make a basket from seagrass and then to fray the ends of the spokes at the end. The variations seem endless and I feel that I’m just beginning to explore them. I am excited about this new direction, because even though they are based on a tribal design, they really feel like my baskets, something that I’ve been working toward for a long time. My attempt is to make a basket that is functional, but has enough presence to stand on its own as a decorative object.
They are really satisfying to create, and I am having a great deal of fun making them. Far from turning me into a Crazy Lady, weaving these baskets calms me down, centers me, and makes me a very Happy Lady.
I have been making baskets for about five years, and I still think of myself as a beginner. It’s not that I haven’t made some nice baskets or that I lack the basic skills. I take a lot of basket making workshops, and for the most part, I am pleased with the results (with a few disastrous exceptions). It’s just that I lack confidence as a basket maker. Each time I start a new basket, I feel challenged. I wonder if I can really do it, let alone do it well. This is part of my basic nature in starting new things. I’m always wanting to try new things, but then all my insecurities and fears keep cropping up.
And then there is the issue of creativity. I so want to be a creative basket maker, not just a technician. To bring the element of art into it. I keep feeling that I am close to doing something unique, but then it eludes me. It doesn’t come out right or it’s just not good enough.
So when I sat down yesterday afternoon to try to figure out a project to teach at the San Juan County Fair this year, I was not feeling very sure of myself. So imagine my surprise when this cute little basket emerged. There is nothing really difficult about it. It is designed to be taught in an hour to someone who has never made a basket before. But I made up the pattern. I decided how many spokes to use, to twine the base and use white fiber rush for it, to add a spoke so that the sides could be a continuous weave, and to make a stripe halfway up the side.
It is a cute little basket. Art it is not. But it feels like my basket. It was a nice moment. And it feels like a step in the right direction.
Several months ago I moved some of my basket-making material down to my studio. It was kind of an experiment to see if I would work more on the baskets in the privacy and quiet of the room that had been just for painting. For a while, it all just sat there in a kind of disorganized heap, and it looked like the experiment was going to be a failure.
Then not too long ago, I started looking over what I had brought down. I took some time to sort through the material, and then I started playing with it. And I have to say that it is feeling really good to be working on baskets right there in my studio. Different somehow than working in the house where I am always distracted with this and that, or sitting down to weave while I watch a movie or talk with friends. Different even than gathering with our basket group once a month. Very different than taking a class.
Because in the studio, I am both the student and the teacher. I think about everything that I’m doing and allow myself the time to do it right. I am not thinking about finishing the basket anymore than I am thinking about finishing a painting. It is all about the process, and so much less about the product. Although ultimately, with both painting and basket making, a product would be nice at some point along the way.
So now in addition to the six unfinished paintings on paper that are tacked on the wall, there are six unfinished baskets. It all makes me happy in ways that I can’t quite explain. Holding the baskets, molding their shapes, and working with them so closely. They become such a part of me. Then turning to paint, holding the brush, feeling connected to the surface it touches. Listening to what they are all trying to teach me.
This is what the studio looked like just before I left for Pennsylvania in early April. There were lots of projects in process. Paintings, drawings, baskets, painted magnets. It was messy and lively. It felt so good to be in there. I was content.
Today it felt a little abandoned. It needs a good cleaning. It wants attention. I need to reestablish contact with all those projects. I need to reset my priority to be in there. I always have great plans to float right back into painting as soon as I get back home. I have so many ideas.
And then I’m always a little more tired, a lot less creative, and more behind with other stuff than I bargained for.
So be it!