Local Life: Walls buzzing with creativity at ARTworks basketry class

lisa@beaufortcountyarts.comOctober 22, 2012 

A recent basketry class at ARTworks was full of energy.

"If you've got something loose or popping out, just weave more over it, that's the joy of random weaving," Kim Keats told her class. We were seated around worktables covered with grape vines, bins of water, and baskets in progress. Two large windows showed the salt marsh in ARTworks' backyard.

In her famous essay "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf wrote, "Women have sat indoors all these millions of years so that by this time, the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has indeed so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must need to harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics."

The conversation in the basketry class was indeed about art and business. The merits of selling at arts festivals were discussed. Keats travels to sell her work, for which she was awarded a South Carolina Craft Fellowship in 2010.

"I do demos while I'm at the festivals," Keats said. "If I don't make any money, at least I get some work done."

Jada Gray, whose work can be found at Green Herring Gallery on Bay Street, started a big one in this session. She often works large-scale, which is gratifying. "I just keep making them," she said, with a big smile that must guide her talented fingers.

Maggie Angstrom, who owns Sweet Bay on Bay Street, took the class to make bridal bouquets "with marsh grasses, for instance, because Beaufort's getting more popular as a wedding destination."

Keats supplies all the materials in her classes (there are more beginning in November -- including some for kids -- at ARTworks). Supple ribbons of bark soaked in one of the bins. Gathering is a part of her creative process. Use of materials is important to her -- she doesn't want to let anything go to waste -- "turning a tree into something beautiful," she said. She has rebuilt trees into tree sculptures. Keats also was sharing palmetto roots, which in her own work form vessels of tubular white lace. See some examples in a show Friday through Sunday at Tabby Fabric & Studio on Port Republic Street in Beaufort.

In class, Keats walks around, consulting with each basket-maker, bringing the conversation back to instruction.

"What I'm doing is connecting this side of the basket with the bottom," she said. "Notice how I'm using both hands to ease this weaver through, over under, around. Do you remember what this looked like 30 minutes ago?"

Stacie Van Vulpen was making a basket with full cheeks, like a peach with a handle. Van Vulpen is a mother, bartender at Emily's, and an ARTworks board member. Keats helped her through a complicated spot: "1-2-3, so you have the same amount on both sides. I'm counting the rows to ensure the pattern."

"This session is great -- one whole day uninterrupted," Stacie said. "I've gotten attached to my basket after all the work I've done."

"Are you still welding?" Angstrom asked her. "I need some work done on some stands." Yes, Van Vulpen welds, too.

Keats circulated around the room and held up another basket. "Feel how heavy it's getting, could you ask for a better spot for that tendril to shoot up? The design she's created here with the bark, note the pattern. It's sturdy. Notice how the palmetto roots provide contrast. Most importantly, she's got a piece of the Lowcountry here."

Connie Huff said she's taking the class because she's new in Beaufort. "I've been working since I was 17," she said, "and now I'm retired." She was taking apart her basket when Keats checked on her again.

"Oh no," Keats said. "We always have someone who starts picking apart their basket. Once you get your random weave in, the ribs are not so significant, they're there to form the work." She helped Huff rebuild, and soon announced her sagest advice about basket-making and permeating the walls: "You know you're a basketmaker when you take one apart."

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks. She can be reached at 843-379-2787.

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