Saturday 23 March 2013

Coiling and Looping in Roussillon

Last weekend I went back to Roussillon in the Rhone valley to teach coiling and looping. The invitation came from the Association FIGLINAE as a consequence of my work being seen in the exhibition Duos Potier Vannier that I took part in there last year. It was a real pleasure to be back in the tender care of this lovely group of people. Thanks go to basket maker Francoise Demoulin and Nathalie and Jean-Jacques Du Bernard who were instrumental in organising the weekend and who also very generously hosted me. Thanks as well to Nancy and the other members of the Association who also played their part. There were 17 adult students on the Saturday plus a babe in arms and a six year old. On the Sunday there were 20 and these numbers  included one man on each day, which added to the two that attended the workshop in Shetland means I am already up to 4 this year. It could turn out to be a record breaking year! All the students were a delight to teach entering totally into the spirit of the workshop with many of them choosing to learn lots of techniques rather than make finished objects. The location in the Chateau was great and the lunchtime picnics were home made and wonderful. Un grand merci a toutes!

Friday 22 March 2013

Wintering in Shetland

Wintering in Shetland is becoming a habit. It is an exciting place to be at this time of year because Shetland folk spend a lot of time partying, dressing up as Vikings and setting light to things. It’s as though life is on speed. The skies and weather change so fast sometimes there are four seasons in a morning and the astonishing rate at which the days start to lengthen in February give hope to someone like me who finds dark mornings deadly. People who have never been to Shetland imagine it to be a cold place because it is on latitude 60. But, the Gulf Stream laps around the islands and during most of January and February it was a few degrees warmer than the south of England. 

It is an unforgiving, but very beautiful place at any time of the year. But, on the surprisingly many still and sunny winter days, there are breathtaking reflections of skies and sunsets on the voe. There is also a glassy sea to peer into where there is a world one is not normally privileged to see without a snorkel.  Seals barely stir the water when they poke their heads up to check you out. Being  curious they track your progress along the shore and  if you stand still they will pop up and down getting ever closer until they decide you are not that interesting after all. Then the faint ripple of their movement on the surface of the water tells you they have gone.

Shetland always inspires me to work  and I usually make some things for the house. This time it was some more table mats out of beach rope, a chest from driftwood to store bedding (a joint project with the ‘woodwork god’) and another laundry basket from a buoy. The house is let to visitors in the summer and I always hope they will enjoy using  these hand made items as much as we enjoy making them.

I also resolved a piece that I had previously exhibited but was unhappy with.  In fact,  it had been folded in half and put  in the dustbin, I didn’t have the heart to unpick my painstaking work. As I turned away from the dustbin I saw a rusty metal ring close by that I had rescued from the beach and knew straight away that I had the solution.  This phenomenon happens quite often to me and is a bit like the tennis player who is tense and making lots of errors and consequently losing badly. The player then apparently gives up and ceases worrying about trying to win.  Suddenly with the brain allowed to stop fretting it all comes together.

But, I have very little space to work in when I am in Shetland, so I mainly occupy myself teaching and researching the indigenous basket making tradition. Each time I learn a bit more and discover that what at first seemed to be one that is quite limited is in fact far richer than I ever imagined. It is also a tradition of careful and meticulous craft, nothing hurried or slapdash and  a supreme demonstration of how to exploit fully whatever material you have available.  I will write about my recent research in more detail later but as a taster here is a rather lovely little “duckie”.

Monday 11 March 2013

Liebster Blog Award


A couple of weeks ago I was very generously presented with this award by Carlos Fontales
As it says on the above it is awarded by bloggers to other bloggers to draw attention to small blogs with less than 300 followers. In return I am asked  to pass on the award to other blogs that I enjoy. The problem for me is that I am not a very regular blog reader, mainly  because, despite the abundance of fascinating blogs, I feel I spend enough time on the computer as it is. Also, the blogs  I do read regularly have already been awarded the prize!

However I am nominating  the following as they all deserve more readers:  poet Jen Hadfield because she writes so beautifully (though it may be that Jen already has 300 followers, it doesn't say on her blog so I don't know).  Joanne B Kaar an artist who does interesting things with plants and JJIgnatius Brennan  an artist who has put his migraine sufferings to good use!

Friday 1 March 2013

Markku Kosonen

Markku Kosonen died in September 2010, but I have only just found out.

This explains why I never got an answer to an email I sent to him at around the same time and why the Christmas greetings he used to send dried up. But, it never occurred to me that he might have died, just maybe, he had grown weary of communicating with someone whom he rarely shared the same physical space with. He was only 65.

Last night, idly wondering what he was doing now, I looked at his website and was shocked to see a date of death appended to his date of birth. Why had I not heard that he had died through the basket making world? He was, after all, a major pioneer in what is now commonly termed 'contemporary basket making'.
It is difficult to explain what his work meant to me when I first discovered it in the early 1980's. But I have always felt that it was very significant for my own development as a maker. In Britain, at that time, basket making could be summed up as buff willow dog baskets and cane edged melamine trays decorated with photos of the Queen, flowers, or winsome puppies. It was absolutely the nadir of basket making in Britain. Few farmers or fishermen were making baskets for their own use. The only people making baskets in any quantity were the last few commercial workshops struggling to compete with cheap foreign imports by making functional, but old fashioned and unexciting willow products. For me at that time it was very difficult to see how basket making could ever be as exciting as pottery or textiles. So, when I saw a very small picture of Markkus' white willow spiral basket in a Scandinavian design magazine it was a shocking experience. Here was the essence of a willow basket made form without reference to anything that had gone before. There was no weaving in this basket, no stakes, no strands, no bases or borders, yet it could still contain fruit. It was shocking, but so exciting and beautiful and it gave me the courage to try things differently with the basket making skills I had recently acquired. I loved him for having made this basket.

In 1998 Markku came to London because his work was on show in Valo- Reflecting Finnish Culture at the Barbican. Perhaps the most memorable piece in that exhibition, was one that has latterly been much imitated by other basket makers but which was radical then. It pursued a theme he had been working on since the 1980's using freshly cut willows with their catkins. Resembling a 'catherine wheel' functionality was now forgotten – this basket contained only air and occupied space - it was pure sculpture yet it still referenced willow baskets that had more earnest ambitions.

We met at the exhibition and the following day he came to my home and studio in Tower Hamlets. His spoken English was not good and my Finnish non-existent. The journey into east London had been a 'heart of darkness' experience for him, but we communicated through basket making and we continued to communicate sporadically through letters and emails over the ensuing years.

Markku wasn't only a basket maker, he was also a woodsman, philosopher, furniture maker, designer and artist, a man who loved trees and made some very beautiful objects. I am so sorry he has slipped away.