photo credit, Mark Lord
Basketmaker, Artist , Tutor
I have been a basketmaker in various guises since I was shown how to make my very first basket, using hedgerow willow and blackberry stems, by my neighbour, Tom Aldridge. Tom was from a travelling family and had made baskets from hedgerow materials when he travelled around Cornwall with a donkey cart, finally settling on Rosudgeon Common in a caravan with his wife. The whole process of cleaving the willow and splitting the blackberry stems was difficult to master as a beginner but I knew that I had finally found my vocation.
I learnt the basics of willow weaving at an evening class taught by Pat Cheyney, worked away in a shed in the garden practising techniques until I felt confident enough to hang a basket on a post by the main road, leave my cabbage cutting job and set out to become a dedicated basketmaker.
When I met Richard Moon I began to realize the significance of basketry and the rapid changes that had occurred in the recent history of the craft. Richard was a seventh generation basketmaker, the last of a long line of professional basketmaking Moons.
Sadly he had to give up his trade when the advent of plastic put an end to the demand for continuous supplies of handmade baskets for the fishing and farming industries in the area. By the end of the 1960’s almost all the family run basket workshops employing dozens of workers belonged to a past way of life– and Moon’s Basket Manufactory was no more.
Richard taught me the ‘tricks of the trade’, from the preparation of materials to weaving underfoot basket bases and making secure handles. As an apprentice he had learnt how to make the strongest baskets in the shortest time possible and would pride himself on having completed 8 shoppers in a day. He was a wonderfully patient teacher and a good friend.
photo credit, Richard Moon's family
Moons Basket Manufactory, at Long Rock
photo credit, Richard Moon's family
Richard's father and grandfather with stacks of broccoli mawns
In the early 1990’s Claire Francis (bespoke hatmaker) and I opened Salt Cellar Workshops on the top floors of a disused net loft, beside Porthleven Harbour. It was built in 1816 as a salt store for the pilchard fishermen and latterly used by fishermen for net making, mending and tarring the finished nets.
We are both still working in the Salt Cellar thirty years later, each with our own studio/workshop, overlooking the sea and harbour.
When I began to sell baskets the demand was slow but steady, there were no other full time basketmakers in the area at the time. I spent the first ten years weaving log baskets (mawns) and shoppers, potato droppers, laundry baskets (flaskets) and other utilitarian baskets.
I planted my own willow garden and discovered the joy of planting living willow trellises, arches and tunnels- it delights me that a 10 foot stick pushed into the ground will take root and grow. Schools and Gardens have been my main customers for these living structures.
View from Salt Cellar Workshops in 2007
when a temporary kinetic fan bridge was constructed for a Basketry and Beyond festival, Bamboozle.
A shift in direction became possible after I received an Arts council grant in 2000 to float 200 lanterns out to sea- the event grew to become a full scale Water Gala with a fishing boat parade, music and dance. Following this I was invited to Kortrijk Centenary Celebrations, Belgium to turn canoes into swans to paddle down the river and bamboo cones into explosives for the firework finale.
For a while tissue paper covered structures became the focus of my work, subsidised by willow basket weaving and planting.
Swan made from willow and tissue
I’ve worked at many events and festivals nationally and internationally- the Rush Weavers Fair at Villanova di Bagnacavallo in Italy, the Eden Project, Olympia Gardens, Glastonbury and Latitude festivals, to name a few.
In 2003 Hilary Burns and I set up Basketry and Beyond, a not-for-profit organisation, to promote the craft of basketry to a wider audience through activities and events. This has resulted in many interesting projects that we have organised and worked on together- including the Paper Palace, Bamboozle Basket Fair, Basketry and Beyond Festival at Dartington and working trips to the Azores and Cyprus.
Eden Project site decoration cones
Land Art project with Hilary Burns in the Azores
Since 2010 my focus has shifted to working with stainless steel wire rope, which has led me down the path of ‘cycloid looping’.
I am currently meeting with the group Forces in Translation to explore the interface between Maths, Anthropology and Basketry. This is an exciting shift from completing finished products to experimenting with new ideas deriving from an exploration of the connections between the three disciplines.
I do still enjoy cutting and using my own willow crop, nothing quite compares with the simple satisfaction of making a basket.
And every minute of being in the studio at Salt Cellar Workshops is a pleasure.