Sandra Kehoe

Basketmaker & Willow Artist

Willow Gathering 2018

This last June I was so excited to attend my very first Willow Gathering in Decorah, Iowa.  Months back I rushed in my registration and fortunately got into three classes held during the week. I had known about the willow gathering two years ago but each summer was either too late to register or couldn't make it due to conflicts.  But, this year I was determined to get there. Many of my weaving friends have told me how wonderful this gathering is and they were absolutely right. 

Decorah is about 16 hours from New Jersey so my boyfriend decided to come along on the trip with me to help driving.  Lucky me, I got to sleep most of the drive there.  Sunset in Ohio was gorgeous and we luckily found a Waffle House for dinner!  

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The Willow Gathering is organized by Jo Campbell-Amsler of Willow Ridge Basketry, and Lee Zieke of Willowglen Nursery.  These two amazing women and weavers arrange for basket makers from around the world to gather once a year at Luther College for a week of classes and all things willow related.  There were presentations, discussions and of course the classes all held by extraordinary teachers.  

During the week there is also a day off where everyone is able to get out and enjoy the area. Once I learned that Seed Savers Exchange was close by, I knew I wanted to go there.  We found our way despite a new road going in right in the way.  We got to walk around the property and see all the gardens.  I even had to purchase a few seeds, of course.     

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We also had time to do some shopping downtown Decorah.  I found some great antiques, and two beautiful chairs that I was able to purchase since my boyfriend drives a pick up truck.  I also got to quickly go to the farmers market before class one day and got some maple syrup and hand salve from local farms.  

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The very first class of the gathering I was actually working with Lene Rasmussen of Lakeshore Willows.  She is one of my very best willow friends.  If you know my work and travels, you know that I love spending time at Lene's farm.  She is one of the best resources for anyone interested in this craft.  This was her first year teaching at the gathering, but her 7th or 8th year attending. I got into her Polish Basket class.  

It turns out this basket is a very specific design and friends of ours in Poland took notice of our class work based on their traditional design.  You can read it here, google translate can help if you don't speak Polish. 

Lene is such a wonderful teacher and I can't recommend her classes enough.  I know I have written many times about her wonderful farm and classes in Canada.  So please check it out if you have any interested in willow basketry.  

Katherine Lewis of Dunbar Gardens said she also worked on this type of basket and was told by the teacher that this base was called the Tree of Life Base.  As you can see below it make sense why they would call it that. 

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It is such a beautiful and original design.  The thick handle and sloped front was reminiscent of a ship on the sea.  The feet on the bottom allow this basket to be used continually without destroying the bottom.  From what I understand this type of basket was made for gathering things like potatoes, or anything with substantial weight.  

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The second class I got to take was a willow bark purse with Katherine Lewis.  If you know anything about the willow world you probably know of Katherine or her work.  It is super hard to get into a class with Katherine because she only teaches in a few select places.  

She is on the opposite side of the USA from where I am, so it was a special treat to get to take this class.  This design was one she made for herself, but then was asked if she would consider teaching it in a class.  

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This was the first time I have ever taken a class with Katherine, and it was amazing to see how she works and teaches.  Everything was thought of and everything was perfectly planned out.  

As you can see below this purse is so gorgeous, and with a full leather liner also so very functional.  We braided the straps and attached a perfect little lid.  It was such a wonderful class, all that I can say is that I sincerely hope that I get the chance to work with Katherine again in the future.  

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The last class I took that week was a more sculptural freeform class with two local artists Pam Dennis and Ryk Weiss.  A great class to end the week with; we were given complete freedom to play with willow by nailing it together in all sorts of shapes.  Although it wasn't exactly basketry, it was still a really fun class.  I had such a great time and I really hope that I'll be able to get back to Iowa next year. 

So technically my trip should have ended here.....but it continues to Minnesota where I got to attend classes at the North House Folk School, but that will have to be in my next post ;)