My basket-making career has roots that begin way back with learning to knit and sew when I was about 5 years old. I took over from my mother in making my own clothes and then progressed to spinning, weaving and using natural dyes when I was just finishing college. After college, I built a small cabin on land that my parents gave to me and honed my woodworking skills. By the time my husband and I married in 1977 the time was right for basket making. A dear friend gave us a basket made by Mary Tilley of Ashfield, MA and soon after that I spent a week with Mary learning the craft. It was exactly the right thing for me, incorporating my love of plants and wood, fiber, weaving and carving, with much of it done outdoors.
Black Ash basketmaking is a traditional American craft. The ash is obtained by cutting a Black Ash tree, removing the bark, and then pounding on the log to separate the annual rings. The splints are soaked and smoothed, then cut to dimension before weaving the baskets. I create handles and rims by splitting out white ash while it is still green or after it has been soaked and then carving it with a drawknife on a shave horse. There is nothing but wood in a finished basket and it is a strong, light, and flexible object with infinite uses. The “art” of basket making is when you decide on proportion, surface texture, the carving of the handles and the fineness of the weave. It has never lost its charm for me.
In 1990 I was introduced to a birch bark basket maker in NH and spent another week learning her techniques. Since then I have made a mixture of splint and bark baskets. Since 1977 I have also taught many workshops, usually at my home, to people who want to learn the “real” way to make a basket. I have also taught thousands of 4th graders to make reed baskets as part of their study of Native Americans and Colonial life.
I have made baskets for almost 40 years. It has been mostly a winter activity as I am a professional gardener during the summer months. I concentrate on corn husk dolls just before the holidays, then spend January and part of February weaving up a basket a day. In the late winter, I work on rims and handles and binding up. (An intern at the Crandall Library produced a 6-minute video of me making an ash splint basket.)
I am one of the founding members of Valley Artisans Market and am grateful to the market for being a simple way to display and sell my work, as well as providing me with a community of artists for friends and inspiration.
Read more about Bliss in her bio.