Basketmaker Susan Ashley presents her stunning collection, made with different materials and techniques.
ABI: What drew you to the art of basketry?
SA: At first I was drawn to the symmetry and mathematical regularity of traditional baskets. At the time I took my first basket weaving class 32 years ago, I was a computer programmer and started basket weaving with a very left-brain, logical approach. I carefully followed written patterns to the letter and even used a protractor to make sure that my handles joined the rims at exactly 90 degrees.
After taking many more classes, I started combining various techniques with natural materials and developing my own style. Now I start with colors and a general idea and let the piece develop, so it’s much more of a right-brain, creative activity. When you use gourds, antlers, vines, pine needles and leaves, the final design depends a lot on the shape or strength of the materials.
Another big attraction to basket weaving for me was having the chance to create something three dimensional, using many different colors and textures. I am a very visual person, but my 40 years of work in corporate IT was all virtual. It continues to be very satisfying for me to make something beautiful that I can see and touch from seemingly ordinary-looking natural materials. Cedar bark, wisteria, honeysuckle, pine needles, day lily leaves, philodendron sheaths, date palm inflorescence, green briar vines, and dracaena leaves are just some of the natural elements I have included in my baskets and gourd art pieces.
ABI: What interesting ways have you found to sell your work?
SA: A local collector of my work uses my pieces for her flower arrangements. Last year she invited me to do a program for the Dallas Ikebana Society on weaving with natural materials. After the presentation, I sold several pieces. So I have looked for similar opportunities and have presented programs to various Garden Clubs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
This has become a good way to find new customers. After hearing how time-consuming it is to obtain and prepare natural materials and create my pieces, these audiences have been appreciative of the items I bring to sell, and see them as a way to bring some elements of nature into their homes.
ABI: What are some of the ways you are using gourds in your artwork?
SA: I started by creating bowls and weaving on the rims. After cutting the tops off lots of gourds to create bowls, I ended up with pile of leftover gourd tops. One day I turned a cone-shaped gourd top upside down and decided to weave in a new direction. In order to balance on the small end, these pieces are attached to wood or stone slices.
With the flatter gourd tops, I have created gourd slice dreamcatchers. I am always looking for new ways to combine basket weaving techniques into my gourd art pieces— like creating a lid of twined waxed linen or weaving a pattern in the rim or in large holes on the side of a gourd.