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curated by Mary Butcher and Victoria Mitchell The Gallery at Norwich University College of the Arts

7 January – 11 February 2011 In conjunction with Basketry: Making Human Nature, at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, 8 February – 22 May 2011. Making Human Nature are outcomes of a major basketry project, Beyond the Basket. An international conference, Basketry and Beyond: Constructing Cultures is scheduled for 14 - 16 April 2011 at the University of East Anglia

©NUCA 2010 ISBN 2

Introduction. The techniques and materials of traditional basketry have changed little over time. Pliable but resistant materials such as willow or rush have been twined, coiled and woven in a sustained evolution, whereby one form has grown out of another. We might think of basketry as a form of ‘slow’ design, shaped by successions of makers, embedded in specific communities and environments, adapting indigenous materials to meet local demand. In basketry we see an emergent complexity too. We note the ingenuity of a contraption such as a fish trap, continuously adapted to enhance its effectiveness in a context of action and we recognize that such basketry is a subtle form of engineering. Rather than being a modest craft with a finite future it is endlessly adaptable and transformative. Thus artists, architects and designers today turn to basketry in order to figure and re-figure the almost-forgotten knowledge that these objects embody. In an era in which manual skills are frequently subordinated to the efficiency of machines it is easy to forget the potential to shape local materials into forms fit for purpose or pleasure through the agency of the human body. It is perhaps to the advantage of hand-made basketry in the future that there has been no successful industrial automation of basketry to date. This exhibition forms part of a larger project ‘Beyond the Basket’ concerning past and current practices of basketry across the globe, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain. In this context, the global and the local are seen to co-exist, sharing in an unspoken language of great significance. Victoria Mitchell Norwich University College of the Arts 3

East Anglian Basketry


ere is a collection of the everyday, baskets which many may think belong to past times, but many of which continue to be produced in small businesses in this region. Here we give the respect and recognition they are due, being hand-made to the highest specifications and with quality materials. When the Crafts Council opened their exhibition David Drew: Baskets in 1986 they had ’never before arranged a solo exhibition for so traditional a maker’ and expressed their confidence in the craft. The exhibition was very well received and brought the basket, something rarely give second glance, to wider notice and public acclaim. It was a breakthrough for the craft. There have been many exhibitions, with diverse and stimulating work, since then, including Brilliant Baskets with a range of work from Midland Arts in 1990 to the Crafts Council’s next exploration of the craft Contemporary International Basketmaking 1998, which revealed different techniques used in construction. East Weaves West: Basketry from Japan and Britain and European Baskets followed. The Scottish Basket Circle and other groups have also given a wider view of national and international makers. Our horizons and networks have spread. It has been a rich time for a craft that has changed even since 1986. This exhibition returns us to the regional to celebrate basket and basketmaker, to illustrate the traditional continuum and responses to new markets. The craft is active in East Anglia, supplying local and wider demand. Makers here are well known to the wider basketmaking community and much respected for their craftsmanship. This exhibition focuses on traditional and recent work and reveals the scale and diversity of activity in this region. In earlier times East Anglia had large numbers of active workshops, supplying regional industries, agriculture and domestic life. Large numbers were employed and had an amazing scale of production, thus Len Wilcox and a colleague were somehow able, in the 1960’s, to make two thousand potato basket to precise measurements in six weeks. Len worked for Sellars in Peterborough as had his father and uncle, with his grandfather also a basketmaker. It was typical of the former trade, with skills being handed through the family. The two great workshops in Great Yarmouth, Yarmouth Stores and Stanley Birds, produced baskets for many local industries but the primary market was the fishing trade. The Quays at Lowestoft and Yarmouth would have had rows of swill baskets, an ancient form recording the volume


of the herring catch as it was unloaded into them. Fishing boats all went to sea with numbers of quarter crans, each a volume measure carefully made to precise size. These two classic baskets were skilled work and required extra training. Here we have the last in those lines, recent copies used now as log baskets, beautiful objects suitable for current demand. Today workshops, often at home, are scattered through the region. Many makers grow their own willow, the main local native material or harvest the native wild rush. This gives control over all aspects of the craft, a method of production advocated by David Drew, freeing makers from the vagaries of commercial supply and saving transport costs. Suitable willows, with coloured barks and often a fragrance, can be grown for particular types of work and are much enjoyed by the public. These basketmakers have learnt their craft from apprenticed makers, Debbie Booth and Sue Chapman from Ronnie Woods, of a Dereham basketmaking family, both then handing on their skills to others, notable Rob King. Terry Bensley, himself trained in the traditional way, taught Adrian Charlton. Colin Manthorpe, an indentured apprentice from Yarmouth Stores, has taught many in his workshop and at short courses run by the Basketmakers’ Association and others. As traditionally trained makers retire it becomes more difficult but there is some hope in recent government moves to reinstate forms of apprenticeship. Even in this time of economic recession basketmakers report good trade, boosted by sales via the internet. Woven kitchen drawers and the willow coffin are regular requests. For the craft to continue to be vital and responsive, younger makers are needed as holders of best past practice and initiators of new forms. A shift is already here in objects which are pleasing, often surprising, sculptures for house or garden. Here is the tradition successfully responding to changing times. The East Anglian basket is a sustainable product, woven in an age-old way from sustainable material. It will give many years of good service, mellow gracefully, be much admired and give pleasure to the senses. Today’s makers produce shapes for modern times, baskets for supermarket trolleys, for the bicycle, for local shopping. Buying and using a basket regularly impacts favourably on our carbon footprints, replacing plastic bags and the cloth ones so often imported from non-sustainable materials. We are delighted to be able to present this vibrant craft in the Gallery at NUCA. Mary Butcher


1 Eel Trap 1998 Terry Bensley

Willow whole cane

Terry trained for five years with Yarmouth Stores, one of the two large workshops making a range of baskets, the majority for the fishing industry. He and Jimmy Humphries started to work independently in 1973 finally finishing his career working from home and retiring in 2008.

2 Herring Swill June 2005 Terry Bensley

Brown willow, Tahiti cane for frame, ribs and skis


Terry spent an extra year training at Yarmouth Stores to make swills, exacting baskets used on the dockside as official measures for herring, which would have been seen in abundance on the quays at the height of the fishing industry.

3 Quarter Cran 1992 Colin Manthorpe

White willow, cane, wood, hazel 22 New College Close, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth NR31 7DE

This basket is a complex official measure for herring. Colin is an indentured basketmaker fromYarmouth Stores, later moving to Stanley Bird’s, then working at home for 20 years. He has retired but continues to teach.

4 Oyster Tendle Michael Frost Senior

Elm twigs 55 East Street Tollesbury CM9 8QE

The Tendle is used for gathering winkles and other shellfish from the foreshore and is difficult to make. Lack of good Elm hedges compounds this. Wyche Elm is easier to work than English Elm. Both stand up to sea water and mud well. My father taught me to make these. Lent by Michael Frost junior

5 Eel Hive 2010

Peter Carter


Willow 01945 772157

The willow eel trap has a conical entrance known as a chair, an old fen word for narrow gap. These traps have been used by my family for over 500 years. The Environment Agency is keen for me to carry on as I am the last to make and use them.


6 Eel Grig 2010 Peter Carter

X 7 Whelk Pot Maker Unknown

Iron frame, tarred rope, netted collar inside the opening

These were baited at the bottom with fish pieces which were delivered to the whelkers after a fish catch was sorted. The net across the top prevented the whelks getting out again, a method well-established along the north Norfolk coast. Lent by Prue Dobinson

8 Coir Ships Fender circa 1975 Mr Bastian

Coir Sisal & Cork Museum of Knots & Sailor’s Ropework, 501 Wherstead Road Ipswich IP2 8LL

Mr Bastian of Southend on Sea was a 4th Generation fendermaker, making all types of ships fenders which were sold to the marine trade. Lent by Des Pawson MBE


Willow 01945 772157

These traps are baited and weighted and put in the waterways overnight. Now the catch is lighter but in past times enormous numbers of eels would have gone regularly from the Fens to Billingsgate Market, London. Peter still has the skill and knowledge to use the basket successfully.

9 Rope mat 1960 Mr Hyland

Charlsfield Suffolk Old rope yarns taken from coir and either manila or sisal rope some which have been dyed Museum of Knots & Sailor’s Ropework, 501

Mats like this would have been made for beer money whilst the maker was on board the Cork light-ship (off Harwich). This particular mat was made specially for neighbours Mr & Mrs Mclaren. Lent by Des Pawson MBE

10 Baker’s Basket 2010 Debbie Booth

White willow 0034 988207607

This traditional baker’s delivery basket is to the same design as that made by generations of the family of Ronnie Woods, basketmaker of Dereham and Norwich, to whom I was apprenticed in 1977, a training which launched me into my lifetime career in the trade.

11 Tradesman’s Bicycle Basket Maker Unknown

Willow, hide, metal fittings

Bicycle baskets such as this would have been a common site in the first half of the twentieth century and would have taken many forms, some with deep backs for display, others shallow tray-like baskets for bread and cakes. Lent by the Museum of East Anglian Life, Stowmarket.


12 Potato Basket 1994 Don Bailey Retired

Don organized his own training, at Small’s of Kings Lynn, Harrison of St Ives, then set up his workshop at Govefield making duck nests for good shooting on the marshes and agricultural work, as many as 4000 potato baskets a season. Plastic bottoms, cheaper, replaced the traditional willow in 1965. Lent by Mary Butcher.

13 Sack Filler date unknown Len Wilcox Brown Willow

Len was from a basketmaking family at Sellars, Peterborough, a busy workshop making domestic and agricultural baskets. Laundry hampers for rail transport were made in large numbers. Len later worked on his own, continuing to make to customer demand while helping Nene Park Trust restore and maintain their willow beds. Lent by Judy Simpson.

14 Bee Skep Maker unknown Straw, string

This belonged to Henry Layte’s mother who lived at Swanton Morley and is thought to have been made locally. They are used to capture and contain an escaped swarm of bees before returning them to a conventional wooden hive. Lent by Henry Layte, The Book Hive, London Street, Norwich.


15 Willow Fencing panel 2010 Peter Dibble

Halesworth willow

My baskets are mostly made from barked willow grown by myself or bought from Somerset. They have a strong robust feel to them. I’ve been a full time maker for fourteen years now and was originally taught by my father-in-law Will Berry, a maker from Suffolk.

16 Waste Paper Basket 1999 Colin Manthorpe Buff Willow

These strong fitched baskets were standard issue to schools, government departments and the armed forces, and have been a regular line for Colin in his traditional workshop. He became self-employed in the early 1980’ after thirty years working in the two big local workshops, Yarmouth Stores and Stanley Birds. Lent by Mary Butcher.

17 Perigordin or Bouyricoun 2010 Adrian Charlton

Brown willow

I saw the ‘bouyricoun’ around 1990 at a Dordogne market. I was intrigued by the construction and beauty of the basket and after many years found a French master of the technique to teach me. I have been making them since 2001. It is a never ending process of refinement.


18 Catalonian Tension Tray 2010 Ruth Kidd

Brown willow

This is a basket that I first came across at ‘La Fete de la Vannerie’ in France. Originating in Catalonia it is simple, functional and beautiful. We have made many hundreds over the years and although ostensibly the same they are also very different.

19 Bulging Shopper 2010. Peter Dibble

Black Maul willow, and self-grown from Halesworth area, Suffolk, species unknown.

My baskets are mostly made from barked willow grown by myself or bought from Somerset. They have a strong robust feel to them. I’ve been a full time maker for fourteen years now and was originally taught by my father-in-law Will Berry, a maker from Suffolk.

20 Three Wet Washing Baskets 2010 Rob King

White willow (stripped Black Maul) 01362 695947

I have been making baskets for 20 years. These baskets are a very popular traditional design, but they have been modified slightly to fit under the door of a front-loading washing machine! A set of 5 of these baskets were used in an advertising campaign for a well known washing machine. 12

21 Childs Chair 2010 Julie King

Buff willow 01362 695947

I have been making baskets for 15 years. This chair is a copy of one brought in to the workshop for repair. The original was more than 50 years old, and is still in very good condition. We thought it was particularly well made, and have adopted the design.

22 Shopper early 1980s Oliver Meek

White and brown willow

Oliver learnt his basketmaking from an Uncle, moving to Swaffham on marrying, buying a coach house as workshop and home. He continued to work into his eighties, on traditional baskets for agriculture and domestic life, but also bought stock from other local makers such as Colin Manthorpe. Lent by Jo Mills

23 Door or deck mat 2010

Des Pawson MBE Manila 501 Wherstead Road Ipswich IP2 8LL

I am professional ropeworker and historian of the world of knots & rope. I learnt this satisfying design of mat from Kai Lund, a Danish sailor, nearly 40 years ago This mat takes 45m of rope and about 3 hours to make, but will last for decades.


24 Rush chair-seat 2010 Sue Marsdon

River Stour rushes harvested 2010

I have been a chair-seater for 25 years and during that time the Basketmakers’ Association has been a constant source of encouragement and information. This year I harvested Suffolk rushes for the first time and wish I had been doing it always: they are the loveliest I have ever used.

25 Straw Seat Maker Unknown Straw, string

Chairs of stitched, coiled straw rope, a technique called lip work, are usually made for personal use and tend to be individual in design. They are long-lasting and designed for warmth with high backs, and rounded form. Norfolk Rural Life Museum, Gressenhall.

26 Baby’s Crib 2010 Jonathan Gordon

Buff willow

Jonathan has worked since as a traditional professional basketmaker for thirty years, being self-taught with the help of Thomas Okey’s ‘The Art of Basketmaking’. He uses traditional tools, methods and materials for a wide repertoire and will make other items to order.


27 Coffin 2010 Winterwillow with Tutor Roger Fowle Willow, wooden base

Winterwillow is a Cambridgeshire based Social Enterprise, part of Winter Comfort for the Homeless, growing and harvesting willow and using it to help others undertake training to deliver high quality basketry products. They will design, make and deliver woven basketry products, baskets, garden structures and woven willow coffins.

28 Morris Dancing Hat 2010 Rita Moore


Rush (Schoenoplectus,formerly Scirpus, lacustris)

Rita joined the Deben Weavers, Debenham, on leaving school and learnt the trade making mats, hats, baskets and seating. She set up her own workshop after thirteen years, employing up to eight home workers and going to Holland for her rush. She continues to work, primarily on chair seats.

29 Frame Basket date unknown Maker unknown Willow

Baskets like this are made by non-professional baskets, of local wild materials and are multi-purpose for house and garden. They are slow to make and normally for personal and family use only or are bartered locally. It comes from the village of Prickwillow. Lent by Christine Grey.


30 Skeined Willow Panels Large 2007, Small 2009. Bunty Ball

Sycamore Frames, white willow skeins, small acorns 01473 256653

I am a member of the Basketmakers’ Association (Chair, MB), as a chairseater and basketmaker. The inspiration for these panels came from some horse feeding sieves in a Museum but could easily have come from chair seating, or Far Eastern or American twill weave designs.

31 Sutton Hoo Helmet 2005

Bunty Ball with a little weaving by Jo Hammond Brown willow, white willow skeins 01473 256653

This was made in response to the treasures dug up at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk for the Basketmakers’ Association Summer Meeting held there.

32 Interior Pocket 2 2010 Interior Pocket 3 2010 Nadine Anderson

Cambridgeshire rush and leather cord Cambridgeshire rush and 24 gauge bead wire

The baskets are twined, off mould, on rush I cut from Fen lodes. Active twiners, the weavers, have to be fine and I love the wire enabling Pocket 3 to balance upright. I aimed to contrast the smooth green whole Rushes with the textured blonde interior cell structure of split matter. 16

33 Springs 2010 Debbie Hall

Willow 01799 584111

I have recently been exploring and emphasizing openings, their relationship with size and position and the ‘usefulness’ of a basket. These forms explore a fairly open weave to create a completely enclosed space, which is emphasized by small glimpses of the solid contents - a large stone.

34 Lead Basket 2003 Sidney Brouet

Lead sidneybrouet@googlemail .com

Unlike the lost wax casting tradition, I use a burning out process that destroys the original object and produces an irreproducible artifact. I cast everyday, functional objects, elevating their status and rendering them functionless.

35 Rush Log Basket 2010 Waveney Rush Industry 01502 538777


This traditional rush workshop, the largest left in East Anglia, opened in 1947 and has full order books exporting to Europe and America. Several weavers stand, with prepared rush beside them, making plaited strips which are then stitched together for fine carpets, while others make baskets using age old techniques.


36 Butcher’s Arm Basket 1980s Ronnie Wood


Ronnie was from a basketmaking family in Dereham and Norwich, his father and several uncles being in the trade making bushel skeps for farming, bakers’ baskets for the Co-op, and domestic ware. Ronnie followed this pattern but also trained several apprentices, Debbie Booth and Sue Chapman among them. Lent by Sue Chapman.

37 Stool (unknown date) Rush

This stool, one of a pair, is currently on display at Stranger’s Hall Museum, Norwich. It is of a wide three plait, coiled and stitched almost invisibly. It is edge-on plait for strength and is probably stuffed with waste rush. Lent by Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.

38 Reverse Engineering 2010 Nicola Naismith

Photographic prints mounted aluminum

Using three dimensional scanning processes a handmade basket is mapped digitally. The technology more often used in an engineering context struggles to make sense of the uneven and woven qualities of the basket resulting in images which reduce form to surface pattern. Scanning by Derek Hillyard and Ian Pagona at Hethel Engineering Centre. 18

39 Basketry Turned on its Head 2010 Kaavous Clayton

Recycled baskets

Found basketry hats are transformed (re-cycled) to form a basket. Or is it a hat? Kaavous Clayton is an artist, curator and wood technician at Norwich University of the Arts.

40 Extracts of films 1937-1971

Selected and arranged by Victoria Mitchell and Katherine Mager. Edited by Katherine Mager The films were selected from the East Anglian Film Archive (U.E.A.) The extracts date from 1937-1971. They include excerpts demonstrating the making of basketry (Bert Hunt, Oliver Meek and others) and baskets in use, in agriculture, fishing and domestic life.

Acknowledgements All the basketmakers and basketry artists, Harriet McKay and staff of the Gallery at NUCA, Vicki Winteringham and Design for Publishing students at NUCA, all those who have loaned baskets from their collections, including Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service and the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket, Katherine Mager and the East Anglian Film Archive, Bunty Ball and the Basketmakers’ Association for great help, Dr Maurice Bichard OBE, Debbie Booth, Kathy Clark, Prue Dobinson, Jo Rolfe, Sue Kirk, Professor T. A. Heslop (University of East Anglia) and the Beyond Text/Beyond the Basket project, Amanda Geitner and Emma Hazell (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts), Monica Brower of George Sexton Associates. Design by Ryan Nevill

Thanks to

Further information on basketry, courses, books, museums, tools, can be found at




All the basketmakers and basketry artists, Harriet McKay and staff of the Gallery at NUCA, Vicki Winteringham and Design for Publishing students at NUCA, all those who have loaned baskets from their collections, including Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service and the Museum of East Anglian Life at Stowmarket, Katherine Mager and the East Anglian Film Archive, Bunty Ball and the Basketmakers’ Association for great help, Dr Maurice Bichard OBE, Debbie Booth, Kathy Clark, Prue Dobinson, Jo Rolfe, Sue Kirk, Professor T. A. Heslop (University of East Anglia) and the Beyond Text/Beyond the Basket project, Amanda Geitner and Emma Hazell (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts), Monica Brower of George Sexton Associates.

Thanks to

East Anglian Basketry Changes.  

EAB booklet with amendmants

East Anglian Basketry Changes.  

EAB booklet with amendmants