During Social Studies today, I donned the long green skirt and collar that I made yesterday, and sat down amidst many baskets and basketry supplies. When my 3rd graders arrived, I explained that I was about to become a wax figure in a museum exhibit. I passed around a tray of nickels, quarters, and a dollar bill, and telling the students to each choose one. Then I froze.
When the first child dropped a quarter into the slot labeled 25 cents, I picked up the basket I was soaking and showed how to weave the weaver reed through the basket's spokes. When the next child paid 5 cents, I showed colored reed and told how it was dyed with berries. After everyone had a turn, I answered some questions, then sent them off to begin preparing their own facts, stories, and speeches.
Years ago (15, maybe?) I took my first basket weaving class at the Sawmill Center for the Arts in Cook Forest, PA. My daughter Kathe went with me. We each made a heart-shaped basket; thet still hang on the wall at our cabin in Forest County, PA. I've made many more baskets over the years, some of which I shared with my students today. This Christmas basket (above)sits on a shelf in my dining room.
I made the basket that my earrings dangle from one summer while I sat at the picnic table under the white pine tree at our cabin. It's a gardening basket, used for holding vegetables or flowers as they're picked. I found these green beads at the bead shop on Saturday. They match the green of my skirt, and the green of the reed I'm weaving into my little basket. They look like nuts or seeds--I wish I knew for sure.
I wanted something natural to wear as I talked about weaving baskets from gathered materials--reed, and sapwood strips, and natural dyes. This year, my students and I have knapped arrowheads, carved soapstone, painted with sand, woven with wool and beads, made leather pouches, and tin lanterns, and assorted other projects that show how people have used natural materials to make useful and beautiful objects.
Now, in this final project of the year, they will each create their own display and costume, so that they can explain a colonial craft or trade at our Colonial Wax Museum. My fondest wish is that they get a sense that they can make what they need, using ingenuity and persistence, as our human ancestors have always done.