The Basket Case

By KATHLEEN MULROY

Baskets, baskets, and more baskets! Sharon Gunter, a well-known fiber artist in Sandpoint, Idaho, loves her favorite craft so much that she named her business “The Basket Case.”

It all began about 40 years ago, shortly after Gunter and her family had moved to Sandpoint, where she still lives. She recalled a neighbor stopping by with a handmade basket packed with cookies. When Gunter asked how the basket had been made, the neighbor kindly offered to teach her the basics of basketry. And voila—both a life-long passion and a future business were born.

Gunter’s baskets, which come in all shapes and sizes, are mostly woven from a type of reed that’s generally considered to be one of the best materials for basket-weaving. Strong, pliable, and light, the reed comes from the core of the long shoots of the rattan palm, which grows in the tropical forests of many South Pacific islands.

The reeds are harvested and machine-processed into round and flat strips of different sizes, then sold in bundles to basket-weavers around the world. Gunter uses either natural reeds or reeds, which she dyes or stains, depending on the type of basket she’s making.

But it’s not just the reeds that make Gunter’s baskets so special. Many of her most striking pieces are works of art featuring shed horns or antlers from deer, elk, or moose. Sometimes she finds horns and antlers on her regular walks in the beautiful mountains and valleys of northern Idaho, and sometimes local friends bring them to her after their own perambulations.

The horn/antler baskets take Gunter several hours to craft, but the result is a work of art.

She also adorns her baskets with other natural materials she picks up in the mountains or along the beaches and inlets of Lake Pend Oreille. She might use an attractive piece of driftwood or seagrass, needles, pine cones or leaves from native trees like cedar, tamarack, or ponderosa pine.

Sometimes she’ll intertwine vines and interesting pieces of birch bark into baskets. She might use colorful yarn and beads or incorporate interesting pieces of clay art that she makes herself.

But Gunter’s fiber arts mastery goes beyond basket weaving. She also weaves, hand-dyes, and hand-paints scarves, towels, aprons, flag sets, and tie-dyes tee-shirts. She paints with water-colors—and sometimes even with coffee—and uses fabric floral dying and continuous-pattern screen printing techniques.

Gunter sells many of her fabric art creations at the Sandpoint Farmer’s Market, along with her baskets.

For many years, she wove her baskets while raising four children—all of whom are now grown—and teaching art in Sandpoint elementary schools. Today she enjoys teaching her grandchildren arts and crafts; still teaches elementary school art; teaches basket-making and other fiber arts classes for adults and children; and demonstrates basket weaving at her stand at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays during market season. (For the Market’s schedule, go to www.sandpointfarmersmarket.com)

Creating a basket is a satisfying experience for any age group, Gunter said. She recalled one young boy’s excitement during a class she was teaching, as he learned how to make a round reed basket.

Gunter smiled, “He looked at me in amazement and said, ‘Wow! Out of all these long straight things, you can make this!’”

Gunter loves watching people touch and pick up baskets. “For me, a fun part of making a craft like this is seeing what people do with it,” she said. “A basket’s true beauty is in how you use it.” ISI

For more on The Basket Case, including Sharon’s basket-making and fiber arts classes, go to her website, www.sharonsbasketry.com.

 

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