Sunday 15 October 2023

Salt and other Basket Fairs

This year I was lucky to be invited back to Salt on the outskirts of Girona in Catalonia for the 25th International Basketry Fair. My invitation was to create a large basket with the help of members of the public. This is such a nice event that I accepted with pleasure. This was my third visit to this two-day fair and the prospect of meeting up with friends and fellow makers, all of whom are treated with such respect and generosity by the Catalan Basketmakers Association and the town, makes it too good to miss. There are now quite a few basketry fairs in Europe some are bigger than Salt, the World Wicker and Weaving Festival in Poland, the Korbmarkt in Lichtenfels, Germany and the Fêtes de la Vannerie at Vallebrègue in France are examples, none of which I have been to, but I have heard mixed reports about all of them.

I was asked by several makers in Salt if we had any events like this in UK and I had to say no. We don’t have any fairs that have run annually for 25 years (Covid years excepted). I believe the last event that was similar was in Porthleven in 2001 when Geraldine Jones and Hilary Burns of Basketry and Beyond, organised the Porthleven Makers Festival in Cornwall. They invited international makers whose work had strong connections with the sea and by all accounts it was an excellent event.  We do have one day events that crop up here and there, there is, for example, a one-day event in Lewes at the end of October this year, and a lot of residential workshops are organised in UK but nothing like Salt. It seems to me that there are lots of factors involved that all need to come together to make an event like Salt, and so far that has not happened in UK.

Salt is a success because it is a collaboration between the Catalan Basketmakers Association (most of whose members live reasonably close) and the town of Salt and its residents, so everybody is catered for, and everyone has an opportunity to get involved in some way or another even if it is just hanging baskets on your balcony, it all adds up.

The fair has a theme each year and this year it was ‘Contemporary’ some years it is a country that is in focus, and for 13 years there has been a competition with both traditional and contemporary categories. This year there were 3 exhibitions in different locations, plus  the installation of a willow and cement sculpture in a square by Klaus Titze, a film about the history of the Fair, a talk by Karen Gossart and Quentin Corentin about their work, (the making side of which was on show in their exhibition “ Jeux de Courbes”), a parade of giants, a traditional folk dance for all with live traditional music, several mini workshops, and of course lots of baskets for sale. The local bars and restaurants and hotels do a very good trade over the weekend and the on-site food and drinks are not expensive. What more can you ask for? 

We could do all of this in UK, but the UK is about eight times bigger than Catalonia and deciding where it should be and finding a town willing to invest in it is a much trickier prospect, the weather is also a factor. Perhaps it does rain at Salt some years, but it has always been warm and sunny when I have been there.

Most of the makers I spoke to were reasonably happy with their sales, but all of them said they didn’t come for the sales, they came to spend time with fellow makers. Basketry can be quite a solitary activity, and because we are constantly encouraged to ‘market’ ourselves in every aspect of our lives, it’s really good to learn that despite what you think you are seeing on social media, very few of us sell out at our exhibitions or fairs, but that most of us are very happy doing what we do, despite ‘marketing’ (which very few of us enjoy doing)!

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