Baskets and Bowls ~ A Collection

Also at BAM Museum, North Adams, MA

By: - Jul 25, 2022


What follows in later paragraphs is the text as part of a photo/word installation at the Berkshire Art Museum (BAM), North Adams, MA. The 2022 Summer show is titled: Artists of the Thursday Chinese Dinner Group, where 27 artists are participating, including Charles and me.  Exhibitions are installed on the first and third floor in extensive spaces. The Berkshire Art Museum primarily serves the artist and owner of this former church, Eric Rudd, with permanent installations in the basement and first floor galleries for his own large free standing and 3d wall sculptures created during five decades. The permanent collection as well as the 2022 show can be seen from Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 pm, at 159 East Main Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, until end of August and weekends in September and October. BAM, at the top of Main Street, is only a seven-minute walk away from MASS MoCA, the largest Museum of Contemporary Art in North America.

My photographs highlight approximately 50 of our more than 100 baskets and bowls in the collection. Who knows, some may even be of museum quality?! We use most of them in one way or another. In the show’s text I write about the oldest basket that was used in WWII in Germany, and baskets from around the world: Jamaica, South Africa, Madagascar and Gullah Baskets. Their weaving originated in West Africa 300 years ago and is still preserved today in South Carolina; it’s taught from generation to generation. The baskets hold exquisite forms.

Then, there are bowls made of ceramic, glass, wood, metal and 3906 ticket stubs, adult size and small bowls and baskets to entertain children. And, there are so many stories to tell. I have given a good number of b&bs first names, mostly women names, of friends who gave them to me as presents or donations to the collection.  Thank you all once again!

Here a few other short stories of baskets and bowls that are special to us:

Recently Steve Nelson offered me his late wife Jan’s baskets. A couple are unique in the collection, like a large rattan made shield with  hand painted scenery from Jamaica or the Bahamas. Amid palm trees, two women carry a bowl and a basket on their heads. We will treasure them all.

When Liz and Brian Cunningham very reluctantly put their loft on the market and had to drastically downsize, she offered me a very large tray that had outlived its original purpose of presenting cheeses and nibbles at parties. We also show one of her mono prints in our bedroom, where works are spaced salon-style like on all walls in our loft. Here I offer a photo of Liz’s basket filled with child size objects. That basket can also be seen in the museum installation’s photographs.

The largest basket is now filled with Charles’ printer inks, a lot of them! When I originally purchased it at a second-hand store in Lee, MA, for perhaps $ 10, he just rolled his eyes. Now he’s taken possession of it.

Then, there is Len Poliandro’s multi curved glass bowl, an addition to two of his steel and glass sculptures. That combination process took him years to perfect while determined to use such contrasting elements. Another artist’s duck glass bowl we’ve given Judy’s name, a present from her.

And, finally, the text from the Berkshire Art Museum installation on the third floor, which is hung in an open middle space surrounded by Gail Seller’s (with Phil’s pieces) totem poles and next to Diane Sawyer’s aerial paintings that I still consider her best work. So, mine is hung by Rudd in very good company!

At what point does one conclude:

This is a Collection.
There are more than 100 baskets and bowls in our home.
And they all carry a story with them.

The earliest one goes back to WWII in Germany.
Neighbors in Bad Nauheim, Hessen, gave it to me in 1970
As we were moving back to the USA.
I never quite understood why?

Yet, this is its history: The German family, farmers,
Hid dry sausages and meat in this elongated rattan basket and buried it,
So that the American officers who were stationed in the region
And in search of food for their soldiers would not confiscate the meat,
And the German extended family would not go hungry.

Then, I did not think much about owning this basket.
I painted it a spring green and it became Olivia’s toys' basket.
In later years, it was painted white again and today,
This old basket, mostly shut away in a closet now,
Has become a historical item. It is worth keeping.

We live with our baskets and bowls, we use most.
Yes, some are stored and some have become show pieces,
Like the whole row of baskets, above our tall built-in book cases.

I considered the one in the right corner my first
Purchased collection piece from Jamaica; a big, strong, somewhat bulging
Two-sided basket. The handle actually forms a circle dividing the two sides.
Oh, I insisted to keep it with me in the airplane while flying home!
That was, perhaps, in 1985 and for many years it would hold
Newspapers, books, and magazines.

Harriet and Simon gave the large dark colored basket
To me as a birthday present one year. Look carefully:
There are a few in that row with strange additions or forms.

One has taken on the look of a bird’s nest; another has small, even sized
Pine cones attached on the outside. Another one is made from dried corn stalks.
And then there are the three duck or swan baskets, well known here and abroad.
These odd baskets cost only a few dollars each at Good Will.
Someone gave them up and I started to collect them!

In another display, there is a Wedding Basket from South Africa,
A present at our wedding and a chance addition to the collection.
Right underneath, the very colorful straw basket came with a note:
‘Purchased at Hotel Cocktiers, Madagaskar;’ the note has almost faded.
As I recall, I bought it at an open-air market in Adams from a young woman,
Who told me that it had been in her great aunt’s home for many years.

Brian Jewett’s bowl is formed from ‘Admit One,’ 309606 ticket stubs,
Quite ingenious! It is hard lacquered and potentially very useful - and art.
So, it has become a show piece in our home.

We do use baskets in all our spaces. A flat square one holds several
Pot holders in the kitchen. Then there are some stored and nestled
Above the refrigerator; ready for bread- or multi-uses.
There is a cupboard in our bathroom, which holds medical supplies and
Baskets; one from Nepal, originally fashioned as a colander.

In our River Room, we also keep food and wine stored in baskets.
Potatoes, onions and garlic fill formerly wide and open ones
Used for wood for fireplaces. Whatever works for us!

The couch table holds a large, flat, sweetgrass basket
Which I recently found in the Eclipse Mill’s ‘swap shop.’
I recognized the weaving, because we had bought a very elaborate one
Several years ago in Charleston, South Carolina, from a young artisan,
Who had learned basket making from her grand-mother. The art, since slavery,
Continues to be taught there and in the Low Country from generation to generation. 

I remember writing in a travel article about Gullah basket weaving, which is a 300year-old craft
In South Carolina. It originated in West Africa and came to South Carolina via the slave trade.
Yes, we bought this magnificent circular basket, done in tight weaving, and adorned with
Open round spaces, in a former slave-market. Now, a fancy tourist place!

Finally, we hold dear a clay bowl from Phil and Gail Sellers’ River Hill Pottery’s Collectors Line.
The grey-brown base in their unique extrusion weaving is finished with a dark brown irregular
And fantastically marked rim and imaginatively bent handles.

Ergo: There is always more to tell about our Basket and Bowl Collection and other very special, meaningful and beautiful objects that perhaps hold only truly special meaning to us.