American Baskets by Robert Shaw

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American Baskets

 

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Whether tramping through the woods of Appalachia in search of the straightest-grained white oak or wading through the marshes of the Carolina low country gathering bulrush, the basket maker is intimately bound to nature and the raw materials of her craft. Few traditional handcrafts still in practice today, adds Robert Shaw in American Baskets, are so dependent upon the maker's skill with her hands--only the simplest tools, if any, are needed.

 

Understanding the history and cultural origins of basket-making techniques is the first step in a collector's or an enthusiast's appreciation of fine vintage or contemporary baskets, and Shaw's book, an introduction to the major American basketry traditions, is a good place to start reading. Deftly weaving together cultural, religious, and personal histories and geographic and environmental influences on the craft, Shaw traces the development of the many distinct native traditions: the Aleuts of Alaska; the Cherokees; the so-called immigrant traditions of New England; the Shakers; the Germans of the Taconic Mountains in New York; traditions in Nantucket, Pennsylvania, and Appalachia; and the African-American communities of the coastal Southeast. Simple, full-color photographs of some of the finest specimens in American collections are accompanied by intelligent, thorough captions listing the artisan (when known), date and place of origin, various materials and dyes used, dimensions, and notes on the basket's intended or possible uses.

 

Rather than muddying the often quite compelling stories of the earliest American basket makers and their descendants, information aimed at collectors is gathered into separate sections that provide overviews of the market conditions for various styles of baskets and how they've changed in the last century or so, what to look for and snap up at auctions--and what to avoid. Caring for and displaying fine baskets is covered in the book's brief final chapter. --Liana Fredley

 

Book Description
American Baskets is the first book to offer a comprehensive overview of an art form that is ten thousand years old. Basketmaking is the most basic of all crafts in its methods and material, and its development reflects specifically local traditions. Here, author Robert Shaw ("the information source on major U.S. crafts" -- Booklist) examines the craft's history and artistry throughout the country and through various periods.


Once among the most common of household objects, handmade baskets have a cachet that has never been equaled. Despite the fact that the American artisan basket has all but disappeared from daily use (the baskets that we have in our homes today are either made from synthetic materials, often by machine, or imported from overseas where labor is cheap), the genuine example of a handcrafted basket is highly prized as a beautiful and valuable object. Baskets are fixtures in the popular style of country decorating, and collectors search out fine antiques as well as outstanding contemporary basket creations. American Baskets celebrates the treasures of yesterday while exploring the work of many of the fine artists who labor over the art form today.

 

Beautifully photographed and exhaustively researched, American Baskets analyzes the influences of both Native Americans and early settlers, including the Aleuts and Hopi as well as the Quakers and Pennsylvania Dutch. The significant contributions of early African-American East Coast culture and the rich heritage of rural Appalachia are also discussed. Paying special attention to the collectible aspect of the American basket, Robert Shaw investigates every type of basket indigenous to this country: ash splint farm baskets, rattan "lightship" baskets, rye straw baskets, African-American rush baskets, and more. A resource guide listing museums that house basket exhibits, antiques dealers and auction houses that sell high-quality pieces, and traditional basket artisans and organizations completes the elegant package.

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