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.


  1. Gracias por este recordatorio de Markku. Dices que murió, pero para mi, que no le conocía, ha comenzado a vivir ahora.

  2. Thank you very much for your comment Carlos.