Visiting Basketry: Making human nature at SCVA (1-2)

Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall
Photographer: Simon Marshall

On Monday 28th of March 2011, members of the Norfolk and Norwich Association of the Blind visited the SCVA. The group were shown around the temporary exhibition Basketry: Making human Nature by the SCVA’s volunteer guides. 

Mary Butcher, a basket maker and commissioned artist for the exhibition, was around to talk about her work and provide an insight into working with different materials and techniques. 

The visitors went round the exhibition in small groups and had been given permission to handle certain objects by the lenders. Visitors were encouraged to handle a variety of objects from local baskets used in the fishing trade, woven hats from Thailand, recycled baskets from Africa and a woven mummer’s costume from Ireland. 

Afterwards, visitors were able to take part in a longer handling session, with objects from Borneo and China. 

On Wednesday the 30th March, the SCVA ran a basketry workshop at the NNAB.  June Croll, who had come to the SCVA with the group on the Monday, facilitated this practical session. 

The NNAB runs an extensive programme of arts and crafts activities and many of the group take part in basketry workshops held at the centre. 

The aim of the SCVA workshop was to draw out themes from the exhibition and experiment with different weaving techniques and materials in order to challenge people’s traditional understanding of basketry and to highlight the accessibility of the craft. 

Mark, a member of staff at the NNAB who joined in the session commented: 

“I think so many people when they lose their sight tend to think well I can’t see so well now, so I can’t do it. It’s quite difficult persuading people that there are ways around doing things and lots of different techniques”.

We began the session by handling objects from the SCVA that we had looked at on Monday, to rekindle some of the ideas we had already discussed. We talked about materials, how things were made and what objects might have been used for. Erica, an arts facilitator who works a lot with basketry and weaving volunteered for the workshop. She had brought with her baskets made from coconut leaves and banana fibres. These objects provided a fantastic contrast to the handling objects from the SCVA, and the objects the group had previously come into contact with during their basketry workshops at the NNAB. 

During their visit to the SCVA, the group had been able to touch Mary Butcher’s work. This had proved to be inspiring as it had challenged people’s traditional understanding of basketry. Mary Butcher uses traditional techniques to create abstract shapes with a range of materials including willow, copper and cable ties. 

Some of the group looked closely at Mary Butcher’s piece, under a magnifying screen and used it as a starting point to think about their own work. 

Alan, a member of the regular NNAB basketry workshops,   who usually works with cane, said:

“When [Mary Butcher] started talking about the willow it made me want to work with something different”. 

The ratio of volunteers and facilitators to visually impaired clients was 1:1, which allowed each member to have lots of support in starting off the willow structures. June showed an example of possible ways to start, creating a circular frame from a strip of willow. This example was passed round for the group to handle. The group got stuck into creating willow frames, some followed June’s example, others created ovals or more organic shapes. 

There were lots of materials to choose from including: rush, willow, ribbon, plastic strips, fabric, wool, raffia, telephone wire and bark.  Additional strips of willow were tied to the circle and used as uprights and horizontals to weave different materials into the frame. The group seemed to be drawn to lots of brightly coloured raffia, ribbon, wool and fabric. 

The handling sessions at the SCVA and at the beginning of the workshop allowed the group to think about pattern and techniques. Touch was very important in facilitating the understanding of how basketry patterns were made. The handling of the objects informed the groups making, and choice of materials. 

At the end of the session, each member of the group presented their work to the rest of us, and spoke about how they had made their woven sculptures and what they wanted to add to it in the next session. 

Mark added that:

“This [workshop] has been really good because it is so tactile, you don’t need good vision to do it”.

The SCVA will continue to work closely with the NNAB developing on ideas that came out of the exhibition visit alongside the introduction to techniques the group worked on during the first workshop.