heritage basketry group Ocracoke 2010 002


2010 Ocracoke Heritage Class

April 2010

by Gael Hawkins

If you live on Ocracoke year round, you undoubt­edly have been asked by a suntanned visitor in July “So, what do you do here in the winter?”. When that ques­tion is posed to me, I conjure up images of being snuggled up with my cats and with that pile of books that I never got about to reading, walking on the beach all alone and visiting with all the people I never get to see during the busy vacation season. But, in truth, once the Thanksgiving/ Christmas chaos is over and maybe a book or two has been read, I am ready for some ac­tion. This year, thanks to a generous grant through the Beaufort County Arts Coun­cil, I was able to participate in the Ocracoke 2010 Heri­tage Class, a weeklong event to learn a variety of basketry techniques. Judith Saunders, part time resident of Oc­racoke and well known bas­ketry artist, was our instruc­tor. For more than 25 years Judith has explored weaving three-dimensional forms us­ing a variety of traditional and non-traditional materi­als. Hand-painted watercolor paper and copper are her materials of choice. She has taught workshops in Virginia and North Carolina, includ­ing classes for the first two sessions of the local “Ocrafolk School” and has shown her work in many national juried exhibitions. Examples of her fine craft can be seen locally at Island Artworks. Ocracoke resident Amy Howard served as Judith’s able and very pa­tient student assistant. Amy has attended the John C. Campbell Folk School and is also an accomplished basket weaver.

Several of the fourteen class participants, including me, were weaving for the first time while others had prior basket making experience. We met each day at the Oc­racoke Community Center where we had access to all of the requisite tools and every imaginable type of material to create a basket-all provid­ed by Judith and classmates. We worked with natural and dyed reeds, locally harvested materials, and even yarns that had been spun by one of the participants. My first basket was an attempt to rep­licate one of our instructor’s beautiful bias plaited pieces with strips of watercolor pa­per hand painted by Judith. My respect for basket weav­ing grew exponentially as I struggled with those floppy strips. Miraculously, and with lots of help, I finished it. Did it remotely resemble a “Ju­dith” basket? –No. Did I love trying? YES! The days flew by and the students did amazing work. Several used Ocracoke seashells and coral as the bases for baskets that appear to be growing from them. This design idea is something that Judith has been working on for the past 15 years and she graciously shared her techniques with us. At the end of the class, it was quite wonderful to see all of the basket shapes, sizes and col­ors we had woven during one week in cold, windy Febru­ary on our island where some people suppose that nothing happens in winter.

Footnote: The Beaufort County Arts Council is a re­gional arts council for Beau­fort, Washington and Hyde Counties that works with the North Carolina Arts Council to ensure that rural counties such as ours have art oppor­tunities. Funding for the Her­itage Class Grassroots Grant was provided by the State of North Carolina and the Na­tional  Endowment for the Arts.

heritage basketry workshop Ocracoke 2010 001

Previous articleThe Ocracoke Community Cemetery
Next articleJoe Burrus, The Last Ocracoke Lighthouse Keeper