The craft of basket making occupies a very special place in the cultural heritage around the world and brings a community of skilled craftspeople to make a wide spectrum of baskets, from the utilitarian and
functional to the contemporary and sculptural. I have researched some very interesting initiatives from around the world.
Operation Planet Basket are a large ecosystem restoration initiative based in Idonesia. They are a small but critical part of a larger project, the Katingan Project which is an important rainforest ERC (Eco System Restoration Concession). They aim to create vital revenue for people who would otherwise have little or no alternative to illegal logging, clearing forest for palm oil cultivation or poaching endangered species including orangutan, pangolin, cloud leopards and orchids. The Katingan Peatland Restoration and Conservation Project ERC is based on the premise that large areas of peat swamp forest in Indonesian Borneo can be saved, which then offers local people a sustainable source of income, tackle global climate change and base this on a solid business model.
The project group work with indigenous Dayaks and other farmers living in and around the rain forests of Indonesia who for centuries have cultivated rattan vines and used the strength of rattan to fashion wicker baskets made to last in an extreme environment. By working directly with the local community, the project helps them maximise their rattan resources, whilst making sure the baskets don’t cost a lot of money. The main support behind the project is Emily Readett-Bayley, who for many years has pioneered the concept of stylish design and exceptional craftsmanship with an ethical policy. She has taken this idea and works with artisan crafters with sustainable agro-forestry, preserving the traditional skills and heritage of the indigenous people living in and around the forest.
ITC are an ethical fashion initiative, called Hadithi, made up of a female collective of over 1,700 basket weavers and artisans that use their skills to help with the conservation of their environment. The organisation currently supports 61 women’s groups that make handicrafts throughout the Kasigau region in south-eastern Kenya and, in doing so, complements larger conservation initiatives in the area. The artisans are expert weavers that use their skills to create one of a kind baskets. This is a sustainable alternative to charcoal production, basket weaving results in more trees, enabling conservation of a threatened forest and wildlife. It also means there is less pressure on farming and gives local people the ability to sustain their families with an income from the sales of baskets whilst living within the ecosystem.
Hadithi have partnered with Wildlife Works, a conservation-focused company that creates jobs for citizens in the area and provides both direct and indirect benefits to communities from carbon financing through forest protection. The driving force behind all biodiversity conservation efforts in the Kasigau region, Wildlife Works, is the world’s leading REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) management company. Theirs is a successful initiative that allows landowners in the developing world to monetise their forest and the natural assets that come with it and because nature conservation is as much a collective effort as it is an individual work, conservation efforts are shared between the local community and female artisans do their part through basket weaving.
Endangered Baskets is a heritage basketry group based in the UK. Based on the embedded skills and techniques of basketry including the knowledge about growing, harvesting, storage and preparation, baskets are part of the local culture and history, this information tells us about the basketry traditions, rituals, aspirations and experiences. By revealing stories of heritage basketry the forms and skills tell us much more about the richness of the UK’s cultural heritage.
This project is a partnership between the Basketmakers’ Association, the Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers and the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) where together they aim to not only raise awareness of the endangered skills but to build on the existing research and help communities work on preserving and protecting that knowledge.
Crafts Council Nederland are a platform that presents a series of talks all about basketry. The talks are about Dutch basketry, the global basketry, connecting and appropriation and the future of basketry. They have speakers that talk about the craft and they hope that this way it will improve the socio-economic position of weavers on the Italian island of Sardinia. The variety of techniques and materials and the many possibilities show us that the technique is still a source of knowledge, creativity and innovation to this day.
CCNL is the initiator of a great and growing community of craftsman, museums and educational institutions. Each party involved builds a link in the transition to a new form of meaning within the sector. Through CCNL the sector becomes a national and international contact point where they can help connect people who still have crafting knowledge and people who want learn from it, is the natural result of our work.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, SAAM, has a collection of American baskets, A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection. It explores the revival of traditional basketry in America during the past fifty years through works by 63 contemporary basketmakers. They were all made between 1983 and 2011, the 105 baskets on display demonstrate the endurance of indigenous, African, and European basket-weaving traditions in the United States as well as interpretations of the craft by individual makers.
The basketmakers that have taken part in the exhibition, have mostly done so with un-dyed native materials such as grasses, trees, vines and bark, all of which they have gathered by hand. They explain how when gathering their materials, that the preparation of the materials is just as important to their process as weaving and acts that connect their finished products to the surrounding environment.