Saturday, June 27, 2009

The plight of the basket tree

I ran across a great blog posting by Mike Reichenbach about the battle to save the ash tree in the United States. If you live in an area where ash trees grow please consider helping out with this project.

Collect seed now to keep ash trees in Minnesota

September 16, 2008
Emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive species, threatens to kill Minnesota’s ash trees. In response, Andrew David, a University of Minnesota forest genetics researcher, and Mike Reichenbach, forestry educator with University of Minnesota Extension, began a project to protect the genetic diversity of ash in Minnesota.
Black ash stand near Cohasset, MN
Black ash stand near Cohasset, MN
Seed collected from wild-grown ash trees will be sent to a seed storage facility in Colorado. This is a proactive response to the presence of EAB in the upper Great Lakes region and the lack of a viable quarantine method to keep Emerald ash borer out of Minnesota.
Ash seed has been ripening all summer and will be ready to pick when the seed coat is brown. Collection of seed will begin in the next 1-2 weeks (around the end of September 2008) and can continue through much of the fall. Black ash seed will fall with the leaves while green ash seed will remain on the tree for awhile after the leaves have fallen. It will be easier to collect from trees before the seed is scattered by winds and rain. Persons wishing to collect seed should watch the ash seed collection webinar found listed under the webinars tab at the following website: The ash seed collection form can also be downloaded from this site.
Minnesota is host to three species of ash: white ash, green ash and black ash. While white ash is an upland species found along the Mississippi River in southeast Minnesota; both black and green ash are common lowland hardwoods found throughout the majority of the state. Ecologically, black and green ash are the most important hardwoods in the lowland forest community. They represent 51 percent of the lowland hardwood cover type in Minnesota. Black ash is very important in native cultures as a source of wood for ash baskets. Both black and green ash provide a source of pallet, saw and veneer logs. All of Minnesota’s native ash species are threatened by EAB.
EAB was most likely introduced to the region when it was transported on wood packaging of an overseas shipment from Asia in 2002 to the Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario area. Within the United States the insect is most often transported on firewood. As of August, EAB has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Ontario, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It has been responsible for the death of over 20 million ash trees despite quarantines on moving nursery stock and firewood out of infected areas.
This conservation effort will preserve the genetic variation for a future point in time when EAB can be controlled and ash species can be reintroduced to Minnesota using locally adapted seed sources.
For more information contact Mike Reichenbach, (888) 241-0724,; or Gary Wyatt, (888) 241-3214,, both with University of Minnesota Extension.
Reprinted with permission from

If the current population of ash trees are wiped out, if we can save seeds and replant, it will be 50 or 60 years before mature trees are available again. This would be devastating to all black/brown ash basket makers. Hopefully we can eradicate the emerald ash borer before total destruction of the trees.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

White Oak Melon Baskets

Dee and Dennis Gregory from Tennessee are white oak basketmakers and prolific teachers. Not only do they make beautiful baskets, but they also make wonder weaving kits. I purchased these awhile back and finally found time to make them. Now I have to say at best all I can claim is to have woven these baskets as all the ribs were already in place so all I had to do was finish weaving over/under to fill in the space. That is not to say it wasn't fun working on these as I so rarely get to use white oak. With white oak basketry having such a long tradition here in Missouri I feel badly that I haven't explored it more. As with so many things, "maybe someday, when I have some free time."

Both of the baskets I would call "melon" shaped in stead of buttocks or gizzard as many white oak ribbed baskets are since they don't have the bulbous shaped sides. The darker stripes in the baskets are from the naturally darker heartwood of the tree with the lighter weavers from the sapwood. Over time as the baskets darken the difference in color will become less and less noticeable, but it will be years before they get that kind of patina. The smaller of the two baskets measures about 4" in diameter and now hangs on the basket tree in my weaving room. The other oval shaped baskets measures about 7"x5" and hands from a peg board over my picture window.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Black and White Basket

This basket was woven using a puzzle mold and kit from Marlys Sowers of Iowa. Marlys' husband Jeff turned the base, lid and one-piece rim which were dyed black using India ink (something I had never heard of doing before). The staves alternate between natural and dyed flat oval reed and it was chase woven with natural and dyed Hamberg cane.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this basket was to weave. Because of the shape of the puzzle mold the staves did have to be tapered on both ends which took some extra time, but setting up the base was as easy as alternating between the two colors (Marlys recommended gluing the staves into the base, but I never do that on my Nantucket style baskets so omitted that step myself). While the weaving pattern looks like it would be complicated, after weaving the first row where I had to count each "stitch", all subsequent rows were just a matter of following the pattern below. The contrast between the natural and black makes this a truly striking basket.

I also purchase another smaller mold and with a cherry wood lid and staves kit along with another cherry lid and rim set for the larger mold. While the kits are not inexpensive the materials are of superior quality and the resulting baskets unique additions to any collection.

Martha Wetherbee Woodchip Basket

This is the latest addition to my collection of baskets, a Martha Wetherbee Shaker woodchip basket. The basket was woven in 1984, relatively early in Martha's career as a Shaker basket historian. Over the years the basket has developed a nice patina and darkened to a deep honey color.

The basket features oak runners laced to the bottom of the basket with leather and a leather liner sewn to the inside of the basket. Baskets like these were made by the Shakers to transport and store short lengths of wood for the small wood stoves they used to heat the rooms of their buildings. The wooden runners or "skates" laced to the bottom of the basket allowed the loaded basket to be dragged by a rope across the snow or ice like a sled. The leather liner kept any wood scraps from falling out onto the floor of the neat and orderly Shaker homes and buildings.

I was fortunate enough to come into possession of this basket when a collector from Boston, MA contacted me to ask if I knew the value of the basket. I informed him that according to Martha's 2008 price list a new woodchip basket with liner was $2,500.00. He had listed the basket on Craig's List, but hadn't gotten any offers, so I made him one and the basket was mine. I am excited to shop Martha my new aquisition when she visits at the end of the month for our annual workshop.