Peters Valley School of Craft with Jo Campbell-Amsler

Last year I discovered that Jo Campbell-Amsler of Willow Ridge Basketry, was going to be teaching at the Peters Valley School of Craft, right here in New Jersey. 

I signed up right away, and for about a year I hassled the poor admissions lady to make sure it was going to run.  I pushed this class on every message board and facebook group that would listen.  Finally after months of worry, it turns out that we had a class of 5 that would run.

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I've never been to Peters Valley before but from what I could see online it looked very similar to the Folk School.  There were a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences.  You can't really walk anywhere and the studios are a mile down a bumpy dirt road.  The housing is a little more "rustic" but if I were to visit again I'd stay on the campus.  Despite all the driving, it had the same amazing feel as the folk school.  It is just so inspiring to be around so many artists and artisans.

There was even a small auction, and I came home with a few extra goodies!  

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I can't get over how much I learn on this 5 day course with Jo.  She showed us everything you need to make rib or frame baskets and then some.  One of the very different things about Jo is that she uses all freshly cut willow instead of the dried stuff.

It is a slightly different feel and look when you work with fresh willow.  The colors are so vibrant, and it has a slight "crackly" feel sometimes.  I can't say I'd ever work with fresh stuff again because I'm so used to the dried, but it was fun to work with.   

The very first project that we all worked on was a tension tray (pictured below). Then we went on to the gypsy melon basket (pictured above). This was our real first experience with putting in ribs and shaping.  

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By the third day I was onto the next thing, which started with learning how to shape rims.  I had grabbed a rim but then noticed another one that was similar to the shape of her tote basket.  I asked if I could make one of those and she said yes!

The fourth basket I made in the class was the small coin purse that needed two "D" shaped rims. Jo took the time to explain every aspect of each basket, and we got to practice the techniques that were needed to accomplish it.  

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At the end of the 5 days Jo also showed us some fun things like how to make willow beads, or how to make cordage out of iris leaves.  It was these last little instructions that really showed what a great teacher Jo is.   I just kept thinking to myself, "this is the most I've ever learned in 5 days."  I was so happy with what I got to accomplish, but the level of skill and tutorial that I got was invaluable. 

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Sandra KehoeComment