Celebrating the history and craft of basketry

The community is invited to meet artists Gail Halvorsen, Jonathan Kline, Kari Lonning, and Lois Russell and learn more about the extraordinary baskets they created at an informal, informative gallery event on Friday, May 20, from 12:30 to 2, at the Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road. The baskets are now on view in the exhibition Hickory, Ash & Reed: Traditional Baskets, Contemporary Makers.

Each artist will talk about how they approach the challenges of basket-making — their inspiration, materials, techniques and process. The gallery “walk and talk” will be followed by lunch with an informal round-table discussion.  

Gail Halvorsen made baskets in her New Canaan workshop, set up years ago with the help of her renowned teacher, basketmaker and woodworker Harry Hilbert. Teacher and student met in Hilbert’s workshop in 1994 where Halvorsen made her first Nantucket-style basket. Taken with the entire process of making a basket, she carefully selects her woods, makes her own molds, carves her handles and waxes her finishes.  Facile with a woodturning lathe, band saw, drill press and other tools of the trade, Halvorsen credits the generous spirit of her influential teacher with her love of each aspect of the craft.

The splint baskets of Jonathan Kline are inspired by the former Shaker and Taghkanic communities native to his birthplace in the Upper Hudson Valley of New York. Today, harvesting the supple wood of the native black ash tree in the Finger Lakes region of his home in Trumansburg, N.Y., Kline creates baskets of all sizes, each one having either a round or rectangular bottom. Rims and handles for the baskets are made from lengths of shagbark hickory, carefully shaped and lashed by hand to the finished carrier. Kline is also known for his painted baskets. Paint was traditionally used to enhance a basket or to extend the life of a valued, worn one. Using a casein base with mineral pigments, Kline layers his durable colors, finishing them with linseed oil for an aged, mellow patina.  

Lois Russell of Boston is drawn to vessel of all kinds — bathtubs, mixing bowls, canoes.  She has made baskets that hold fresh bread, apples, crayons and folded laundry. With a reverence for both the interior and exterior of her woven forms, Russell weaves baskets that often reveal from within while keeping contents together, protecting them from spills and guarding them from the outside. She has studied basket making for years, learning traditional techniques and working with every imaginable material including bamboo, telephone wire, bark and countless fibers. Playing with shape, color and texture, she has explored the “architecture” of the basket, creating imaginative sculptural forms that defy imagination and fly in the face of the function that determined the forms of most early baskets.

A native of neighboring Ridgefield, basket maker Kari Lonning lives and works in a 1900s schoolhouse on a property surrounded by gardens and sheltered by expansive skies. Coils and coils of dyed reed extend from studio to greenhouse, nearly into the gardens beyond, where the colors of leaves, flowers and vegetables lend inspiration to the pigments she uses to dye her rattan. An avid photographer as well, Lonning constantly records her surroundings, collecting images that are reflected in the elegant forms and interesting color combinations of her exquisitely crafted baskets.

The cost, including lunch, is $25 for society members, $35 for non-members. Space is limited, register at info@wiltonhistorical.org or call 203-762-7257.