Innovations in Basketry
Trilobites and grassy hills
by Laura Bien
"Las Vegas trilobite" comes to mind while one examines John Garrett's wild silvery swirl of woven metal strips dripping in jet and gold beads. This glittery work nutshells the recent rise and flowering of the craft of basketry into fine art sculpture. Washtenaw Community College's exhibition of work by seven nationally known artists doesn't have a basket in the bunch.
It does have Garrett's Suspicion, next to the trilobite. This angry knotted coil of woven videotape suggest two glossy black scorpions fighting. Sprigs of black wire sprout from the tense knots. "Recent work using old videotape has allowed me to comment not only on bad movies but on surveillance and issues regarding memory," notes a nearby statement from the artist.
Another vibrant Garrett work is a big tetrahedral urn made of eviscerated stuffed animals. This florid, fuzzy work weaves bead-strung wire among patches of fluff, along with antique alphabet blocks decoupaged with old-timey prints from children's books. Exhibit curator Ann Rubin donned white gloves and carefully lifted the lid to show me its fuzzy blue-and-brown interior. The whole suggests a canopic jar for lost childhood.
Contrasting to Garrett's ebullient, flashy creations are Lissa Hunter's five serene jars, Bud, Zig, Stripe, Circa, and Urn. These six-inch-tall acornlike vessels in a range of soft browns calm the viewer with their understated dignity.
Jars appear again in Carol Eckert's small, elaborate works made by "coiling," or wrapping lengths of thread in more thread and coiling the wrapped thread into shapes. Dual Oracles, two stately five-inch-tall lidded jars, are bedecked with cranelike birds. Parable of the Lion offers a leafy bower decorated with three blue birds, over a meticulously crafted lion powwowing with two other animals.
Nature images also surface in John McQueen's yard-high hookahlike vessel made of bark, sitting on a shelf of woven branches. Nearby is his woven screen of twigs forming honeycomb cells, among which he's created outlines of four shirts hanging on a clothesline.
appear in Karyl Sisson's cluster of five caterpillary blobs, one made of woven old zippers studded with spiny clothespins and another suggesting a beached sea slug. Her Self-Portrait, a woven red brainlike shape trailing what could be a spinal cord, ends in a festive tassel.
Rubin's favorite work, and my own, is Mary Merkel-Hess's Midsummer (left). A pair of slender boat shapes, walled with rising reeds in grassy green on one work and sage green fading to goldenrod yellow on the other, suggest grassy hills and evoke the Iowa landscape Merkel-Hess names as her inspiration. This quiet work, speckled in tiny buttercup-yellow dots, enchants the February-frosted viewer into dreaming about running over a sunlit summer hillside. The exhibit Transitions/Translations: Innovations in Basketry is at WCC's GalleryOne through March 14.
[Originally published in February, 2005.]