Historic to contemporary baskets on display

Wilton Historical Society’s newest exhibition, opening Thursday, March 31,  will contrast the work of contemporary basket makers with historic examples from its own collection. Hickory, Ash & Reed: Traditional Baskets, Contemporary Makers will be on view through Oct. 15

The exhibition will showcase the work of Jonathan Kline, Stephen Zeh, Lois Russell, Kari Lonning, and Marion Hildebrandt. Visitors to the show will see how their work is grounded in the use of natural materials, including brown ash, black ash, hickory, willow and reed. Contemporary Nantucket baskets will be shown as well.

These artisans “recognize the rich history of American basket making in their artistry and innovative designs,” a press release from the historical society said. “Meticulous craftsmanship and traditional methods pay homage to the trappers and farmers of our forebears in Stephen Zeh’s work.”

Russell’s waxed linen vessels take imaginative shape while the baskets of Jonathan Kline are sturdy-bottomed, made from the trees of woodlands surrounding his upstate New York home. Often painted, their colors recall the stains of berries and plants used by Native Americans.

Inspired by architecture and design, as well as the gardens and woods out her back door in Ridgefield, Kari Lonning weaves rattan reed into striking, colorful vessels and sculpture. West Coast basket maker Marion Hildebrandt used cattail leaves, hazelnut branches, bark, and natural twine to evoke her native surroundings.

Contemporary Nantucket baskets crafted by Harry Hilbert and Gail Halvorsen are a distinctly American handcraft that came out of the maritime cooperage tradition, involving woodworking as much as basketry.

Working with familiar forms, ranging from wide, shallow baskets to lidded baskets; large rectangular, loosely woven sieving or draining baskets to upright hampers; round or oval baskets designed for use in harvesting vegetables and fruit; carrying or storing a variety of household objects, the exhibition’s work shows the influence of Shakers, Native Americans, and the traditions of the Northeast.  

Historically, the nature of basket making is related to a particular place and way of life. The design of the basket is dictated by locally available materials and function. Twining, coiling and plaiting, basket makers of the past and present have plied their craft in barns and kitchens, fields and studios, using a wide array of materials. Wood, willow, vine, reed, hair, yarn, thread, cornhusk and grass have been used to make baskets for carrying, displaying, drying, sifting and sieving.

In Connecticut, Stamford craftsmen made open weave ash and oak splint baskets for clam and oyster harvesting in Norwalk, tightly woven bushels for gathering apples in Fairfield County and a number of custom designs to suit the needs of coal delivery men, home laundresses, farmers and local business owners. On view in Hickory, Ash & Reed: Traditional Baskets, Contemporary Makers are baskets made to hold flowers, vegetables and peaches; sieves for winnowing, drying, and for draining cheese; baskets for sewing, storage and going to market from the permanent collection of the Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road.

Information: wiltonhistorical.org.