I am pleased to have had the chance to participate in what I am sure in the future will be looked at as one of the pivotal conferences in the history of American Basketry. The participant list was truly a "who's-who" of American basketry. I think it would have been easier to make a list of the influential people in American basketry who weren't there, than it would have to make a list of those who were.
The Handweavers Guild of America organized this event as its first small focus conference ever at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It is remarkable that the field of basketry was chosen for this first time effort. HGA and Michael Davis, who had first proposed the conference to HGA, must be commended for their vision and follow through. The energy level for the whole week was high. There were so many things to do and see it would be hard to relate them all, but I will share a few.
Fourteen workshops were offered in both traditional and contemporary techniques by instructors well noted for their excellence. Touring the classrooms during the week was one of my favorite experiences. A good number of the students in attendance were well qualified as teachers in their own right, so the quality of the work being done in the classrooms was superb.
Before classes each morning, as well as in the afternoons and evenings, lectures or presentations were made by a variety of individuals. Kenneth R. Trapp's keynote speech examined where the craft artist is in terms of the art world.
Martha Connell, Curator of American Basketmaking: Innovation and Tradition spoke about the criteria she used in the selection of the baskets in the show. The basketry exhibition was an educational vehicle starting with vintage American Indian baskets. In addition, thirty-six basketmakers represented the preservation of long standing basketry traditions, the extension and expansion of the definition of tradition and the "new baskets" that have introduced new forms, ideas and/or materials. HGA sponsored a separate juried exhibit titled All Things Considered, featuring excellently crafted, well conceived baskets representative of both traditional and contemporary baskets. A four-color catalog for American Basketmaking and a four color brochure of All Things Considered, are available from HGA. The exhibits received extensive coverage in Volume XXX, No. 4, Issue 120 of Spindle Shuttle and Dyepot.
Alan Dubois, the Curator of The Arkansas Art Center Decorative Arts Museum spoke about the arts center's extensive collection of contemporary baskets. The collection includes 81 pieces of contemporary art basketry. Each piece is selected from the body of work representing "The New Basket" or "Art Basket", a style different from tradition. The museum is planning a Jane Sauer retrospective exhibit in April, 2000.
Many other lectures were presented as well. Rachel Nash Law spoke and presented a slide show about White Oak Basketmaking: A Living Tradition. She spoke about the research that she and Cynthia Taylor did in preparation of the manuscript for their book Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking.
Tommie Rodgers spoke about the Catherine Marshall Gardiner Basket Collection at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi. The collection includes 500 Native American baskets and 300 International baskets.
Mary Jackson shared the traditions of her coiled sweetgrass, pine needles and bulrush basketry. John McGuire presented a lecture on Nantucket Lightship Basketry. Michael Davis lectured on finding and working with a gallery for the representation of your work. Diane Dixon's slide show and lecture in two parts discussed rivercane basketry. Joanna Schanz combined a slide show with a dramatic presentation on the willow basketry of the Amana Colonies in Iowa. Students had an opportunity to display slides of their work in one evening session and individual teachers provided class slide shows. I was lucky enough to view my teacher, Leon Niehues' presentation of his White Oak basketry.
Panel Discussions filled the weekend sessions. The panels were made up of the featured speakers, faculty members and Sandra Bolles from HGA. The spirited discussions revolved around the most pressing issues facing basketmakers today.
Among the most important results of the discussions were the formation of committees to consider the next steps to be taken in the development of the American Basketry Movement. The committees reported decisions to plan another national basketry conference, a national juried exhibit and a national basketry publication. The next national basketry conference will be planned in October of 2001 in Houston, Texas. A new national juried basketry exhibition will be planned to take place at The Arkansas Art Center on a date to be announced and a plan for a National Basketmaker's Publication was germinated.
All in all, the experience I had at this conference was fabulous. I am delighted that I have been able to be a part of it. It was wonderful to renew old friendships and forge new ones with others who were there. As details emerge on the plans for the new events, I will be certain to share them here with you. If you were fortunate enough to have been in attendance at the conference, I invite you to post your thoughts on the forum to let us all know what you experienced.
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