'Every culture makes baskets'
As Columbia Basin Basketry Guild President Barbara Kommer noted, the purview of basketry extends across cultures and continents. And with myriad techniques and materials on display, attendees of the guild's first art gallery in three years — which took place at the Multnomah Arts Center on Sept. 7 — got a chance to experience the eclecticism that makes basketry unique. "Every culture makes baskets," Kommer said. "They always draw on the materials that are local to them. You can look back thousands of years, tens of thousands of years, and they (archaeologists) find woven artifacts, woven pieces from sandals or hats that were made. It's a craft and an art that spans the globe today as well as in the past." Kommer said the Columbia Basin Basketry Guild, which practices and celebrates the process of weaving baskets, has existed for almost 30 years and was one of the first tenants of the Multnomah Arts Center. It includes over 200 members, some of whom live in Southwest Portland and others who live in Vancouver and even Idaho and California. The guild provides classes, retreats and seminars. "Our guild's primary purpose is to promote and teach basketry and have people appreciate basketry," Kommer said. "And we're always thrilled to have a show here because we get such positive response to it from the community, from family members." Like the cultural impact, the quantity of basketry materials and techniques is extensive.
There's twining, knotting, twoturn twining, coiling and backwards netting. And basketry artists can use materials such as ceramic pieces, wire, white ash, nettle, cedar and yucca. "There's so many materials, so many techniques and so many ways to combine them that you can experiment with different materials doing the same techniques or different techniques with the same materials," Homestead resident and guild member Susan Hanks said. "When you get tired of doing one thing, then you can turn 90 degrees and do something else. I guess I'm kind of distractible, so I'll work on something for a while and then something
else catches my fancy and I'll go off on that tangent for a while and then, 'Oh look at that.'" Kommer was initially fascinated by Native American basketry and wanted to learn how to make beautiful baskets, so she joined the guild 10 years ago. She said making a basket can often take many hours and that fortifying a tight foundation is key. "Some baskets can be very loose and wobbly. And that usually happens when it was made with material that was not properly prepared," Kommer said. Andrea DuFlon, who lives near Albert Kelley Park and is a board member of the National
Basketry Organization, said she has learned all of the basketry techniques but feels a tinge of excitement when she finds new variations of a particular mate
rial matched with a technique. And she finds fashioning a basket more satisfying than weaving a blanket. "There's no limit. That's
what I love about fiber art in general," she said. "With weaving, you have a two-dimensional structure you put on a bed, you put on a wall. With this, you can do anything, any size or shape." The guild also organizes natural material gathering sessions at tree lots. "A lot of times you can't just walk into a forest and harvest cedar. You have to have a permit. You have to have access," Kommer said. "We teach members how to gather properly so that they don't harm a site, so that we can continue to use it year after year." Hanks said the guild is a great way to meet people and that many of her best friends are guild members. "It's like anything else," she said. "When you have a common interest, it tends to make friendships easy." And since she joined the guild, Kommer said attendance among younger generations has increased significantly. "I think they (younger guild members) like that notion of getting close to the earth and seeing what they can do with those materials," she said. "It's (seeing younger people take an interest in basketry) been very heartening." DuFlon said she is often inspired by her peers' work — and especially so at the gallery. "I think what I like about it (basketry) is being inspired by what other people are doing and finding out about ways of using materials that I hadn't thought of," she said. For more information about the guild, visit its website at www.basketryguild.org.