Day Two of the ‘Woven Communities’ basketry symposium was just as good as Day One. Everyone arrived early to have a go at making bits and bobs and playing with materials, and there was lots of swapping of ideas, techniques and experiences before the presentations got underway.
I’d say that there was a more temporal theme to the day, looking at basketry in the past, present and future. The first session, ‘Basketry and the past’, focused on basketry (or the absence of it) in the archaeological record. Willeke Wendrich of UCLA showed us some photos of ancient basketry from Egypt and other parts of the Mediterranean. She made an interesting point about how ‘tradition’ means different things to different people, giving an example of two basketmaking communities in Nubia – one which goes to great lengths to find traditional materials, valuing the material above all, while the other uses modern materials such as chocolate wrappers, valuing the pattern and colour above all. Next up was Hugh Cheape from the University of the Highlands and Islands on the subject of curachs (coracles) and coffins. This was followed by a joint presentation by two conservators, Sherry Doyal and Pieta Greaves, who spoke about the practicalities and problems of conserving the very few waterlogged baskets that are found.
While the official title of the next session was ‘National and international woven communities’, it was very much a session about the present. First up was Joe Hogan, a basketmaker and artist from Ireland, who gave a wonderful talk about Irish baskets and his own practice. We often talk about regional variation in baskets, but Joe gave examples of variations between villages often only three or four miles apart. He was followed by Anne Morrell of the Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmenabad, India, who looked at the relationship between embroidery and basketmaking, and cautioned us against our obsession with naming every stitch, weave, action etc. There was a great quote from Anne ‘Do not assume that things are made using the same methods you know about’. The final talk of this session was from Carlos Fontales, an expert in Spanish basketry, who spoke about the relationship between basketry and pottery in making jugs to hold wine, and introduced us to beautiful woven willow jugs lined with pine resin to make them watertight.
The afternoon session began with a mixture of present and future, looking at ideas of sustainability. Mary Butcher spoke about sustainable resources in basketmaking and some of the problems facing supplies of willow (shortage of beds and commercially grown willow), cane (an export ban imposed by the Indonesian government, the largest supplier of cane) and black ash (being destroyed in the millions by the emerald ash borer beetle). Rehema White of the University of St Andrews discussed ideas of sustainable development in relation to basketmaking. Ben Campbell of the University of Durham looked at the effects of nature conservation in Nepal on a bamboo basketmaking culture – when the creation of the Langtang National Park in 1976 banned the trade in forest products and made it necessary to have a licence to cut bamboo.
The final session of the symposium was ‘Weaving into the future’. I gave a talk about intangible heritage and heritage craft, and spoke about the work the HCA is doing to ensure that craft skills and knowledge carry on into the future. This was followed by a discussion session led by Emma Walker of CraftScotland, with basketmakers Lois Walpole and Jane Wilkinson, and me, and contributions from the floor. The day ended with Tim Ingold of the University of Aberdeen bringing together the various strands of the symposium, such as tradition, knowledge, materials, politics and a whole lot more.
To cap off the day Ewan Balfour, a landscape architect and basketmaker from Shetland, finished the kishie he had been making throughout the conference. On the first day, he could be seen in the front row making what seemed like an endless length of rope, and on the second day he made the basket. That was one of the great things about the conference – the mix of the practical and the academic – and it was great to see people working away with their hands, exploring materials and having an experiment while listening to the talks.