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News Faculty Blog: Technology of Cultural Materials

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​Left: Wood splint and cane basket made by Wren Collins. Right: Pine needle and embroidery thread basket by Jess Mongold.

​This spring, students in ARTC467 Technology of Cultural Materials: Basketry had the opportunity to explore the materials and methods of manufacture of baskets by studying museum collections and through their own attempts in production. In the lab and classroom, we learned about cultural context, condition issues, and documentation techniques. But in the "field," students had the chance to make two of their own baskets and harvested materials to make a community basket on the last day of class. 

One material used in basketry is wood splints. These are pieces of wood that can be as thin as one growth ring. They are produced by hammering a piece of wood to crush the fibers between the growth rings so that the wood naturally separates. 

​Left: Miriam-Helene Rudd and Nick Fandaros hammering an ash billet to separate splints. Right: Ash splints separating along growth rings.

​We had the good fortune that Ken Sampson, another conservation student not in the class, was gifted an ash tree trunk from a neighbor. He chopped the trunk into smaller, more manageable pieces, and brought it, along with some tools, to campus for us to experience how to manufacture our own wood splints for basket weaving. He even pre-split some sections of the trunk into billets and left some sections of the trunk whole so we could try out different techniques. 

After almost an hour of pounding on the wood, we were only able to produce a few splints that would be useable for making a basket. To honor these precious strips, we wove them together into a communal class basket. Each person in the class contributed one woven strip and everyone took turns in finishing off the rim. Through our blood, sweat, and tears (or at least our blood and sweat!) we were able to achieve something special: first-hand knowledge of how difficult harvesting materials is and the deepened respect for master basket weavers who do this work for a living. 

​Left: Class photo, from left to right: Front row: Lexa Blasiak, Lianne Pascua, Nick Fandaros. Back row: Wren Collins, Nina Owczarek holding class basket, Jess Mongold, Miriam-Helene Rudd, Caitlyn Stewart. Not pictured: Laura Sankary. Right: Basket created from ash splints harvested on the last day of class.

At the start of the semester, we viewed this video clip from Chitimacha basket weaver, John Darden. He mentions how few weavers remain in his community and explains that many are interested in weaving but are not willing to harvest and process the materials. At the end of class, Nick Fandaros (see image) shared that although he understood the concept that weavers would need to procure the materials, he didn't fully appreciate what that really meant until trying it himself. He linked the experience back to Darden's comments and his new understanding of why this is the case. Everyone around the table nodded their heads in agreement.

Experiential learning is not new to Art Conservation or to the University of Delaware, but all of the students who took this course now have two new baskets that they made with their own hands and a new appreciation for baskets and their makers. 

— Nina Owczarek, Objects Conservator and WUDPAC Assistant Professor

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This spring, students had the opportunity to explore the materials and methods of manufacture of baskets by studying museum collections and through their own attempts in production.

​This spring, students had the opportunity to explore the materials and methods of manufacture of baskets by studying museum collections and through their own attempts in production.

5/21/2021
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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489
  • art-conservation@udel.edu