Monday, 28 February 2011

Books, Libraries and a little bit of Magic

Urban baskets is currently on show in two libraries in Wales, Ruthin (above) and Denbigh (below) and it pleases me a lot that the work is being seen in  publicly funded spaces, but  for how much longer will  libraries in England and Wales  be able to afford to dedicate some of their space to galleries?  Many of them are currently battling to keep open and maintain their primary activity of lending books, for free, to the local community. It therefore seems highly unlikely that budgets for galleries within them will be considered a priority.

Tim Johnson, a British artist who finds much of his inspiration in baskets, wrote on his blog recently about  borrowing  Dorothy Wright's "The Complete Book of Baskets and Basketmaking"( ISBN 0 88914 055 3) and the influence that it had on his subsequent career. In so doing he described my own experience exactly.

It was the only book on the subject of basket making that I found in St. Martins art college library. I kept it out on loan  for months, endlessly re reading passages on my way to and from the sculpture studios by bus. There was, for me, an urgent  desire to discover how an unruly and apparently worthless twig, vine or leaf could be manipulated by human hands  into something of use or beauty, or both, and  I spent many hours trying to decode  the arcane knowledge that  the black and white illustrations seemed to be guarding. I don't think  Dorothy would have approved of the consequences of my in depth study, as she didn't seem to approve of  'arty' experimentation with basketry techniques.  But, the life size  figure of a man that I wove out of centre cane, with her unknowing assistance, was the catalyst for the direction I have taken since then, and I would like to think that my work now shows as much respect for the tradition as her writing did then.

It is impossible to say whether the same thing could have happened  by using the internet instead of borrowing a book. What is certain is that not all books in libraries will be digitised, and many of those on basket making that I have looked at are treasures from another era that went out of print many years ago.  "The Basket Maker" by Luther Weston Turner 1909 is a little gem, perfectly formed and with an almost cinematic aesthetic that shows us clearly that basket making really is the stuff of magic, a deft shoot of the cuffs and 'hey presto' - a basket!

Fortunately, the two libraries where Urban Baskets is currently on show are not in imminent danger and the exhibition continues at both venues until the 12th March. Please go and see it, if you are in the area, and sign the visitors book because  it is in some small way a petition to save these library galleries for future exhibitions.

All library photos thanks to Shani Rhys-James friend and super painter.  See her at work here

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