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Three Woven Mats - Asante Sana Exhibition, Odense, Denmark 2012 

In January this year I made 3 large twined mats for an exhibition in Odense, Denmark curated by Jette Mellgren in response to a special basket from Uganda. The text below accompanied the work in the exhibition. The work may be seen in my new gallery Asante Sana Gallery and the exhibition catalogue is available online as a free download.

Three Woven Mats made in response to a Ugandan Dragonfly Basket.
Notes on the making process.

It's not everyday that a Ugandan Dragonfly basket arrives in your studio!

A beautifully made openwork vessel twined from stiff grass, the basket is both elegant and perfect in form and function - not that I am so familiar with Dragonfly gathering! In parts of Uganda women working in the fields collect Dragonflies in April and November, place them in these close necked baskets, stuff the opening with a bundle of grass to prevent them from escaping, and when enough have been gathered they are fried up with oil and spices to give a healthy snack similar to shrimps.

As a maker challenged to respond to this basket there are of course many choices to be made and possibilities that could be followed. The basket sat in my studio for several weeks among many others and amidst materials, tools and inspirations waited to 'talk' to me  - for an idea to come of how to start the making process. I looked at the basket and considered the possibilities of making woven dragonflies, of creating translucent wings, of things suspended and with the same airy lightness that the basket and its prey suggest.

However in the end I followed perhaps a more conservative path, to respond to material and technique rather than idea and function. As a basket maker originally trained as an artist this is perhaps a curious response, but one that for me makes complete sense at this moment. 2011 has been a year of great inspiration and many travels for me and at the end of it I have found a greater commitment to the craft of basket making and a resolution to immerse myself further in its many facets that have fascinated me since childhood.

So my response to create a series of three mats using the same making technique and more specifically the 'windmill' start at the base of the basket, as my starting point is the choice that I have made. Using different materials for each mat provided a fascinating insight into the ancient technique of twining and as each material had it’s own very specific qualities I was forced to re-think technique and aesthetic as I progressed. Each mat has it's own distinctive qualities and different details, I am delighted to have been given the chance to take part in this exhibition and learn so much in the process, I hope my fascination and enjoyment of this traditional Ugandan basket is evident in my finished work.

Tim Johnson January 2012

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Reader Comments (2)

Tim, where did you get the esparto grass? I have an old antique hardwood frame wicker rocker from the 1870s (American made by the Colt Manufacturing Company), that has the entire back and under the arms woven in a very, very fancy design out of esparto grass!

It was severely damaged and must be repaired. I am not going to try and duplicate the weave, but am curious as to where the grass is currently available and used. I will instead weave it in the Star of David pattern out of chair cane.

LOVE your basketry work by the way, and have been following you on the Facebook Willow Group.

The Wicker Woman-Cathryn Jungroth Peters, Minnesota, USA

July 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathryn Peters

Hi Cathryn, thankyou for taking the time to vist my website and comment - apologies for the delay in reply - been super busy of late ! To answer your question there is a lovely old shop in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, that used to be a brushworks that is now selling baskets, brooms, fibres, ropes, string and Esparto Grass amongst other bits and pieces. Sorry I don't know the address as I was taken there. Esparto is still used in Spain and North Africa for basketmaking and is a tough grass that grows in arid regions. It comes in two sorts - whole and beaten - you can see the two textures in my Esparto Mat - the stakes being the whole stems and the twined weavers being the beaten.


Hope that helps! Best wishes Tim

July 19, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Tim Johnson]
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