|Inspirations .. August, 2005
You have a reputation as one of the UK's most innovative basketmakers but how were you first introduced to the craft?
About 16 years ago I was making stained-glass windows for houses when my sister-in-law showed me a baby's cradle she was making for her daughter in willow. I was inspired and ordered some from her supplier in Somerset. I wanted to study the craft but there were no long courses so I learned piecemeal, travelling throughout the UK and Ireland learning from craftsmen. Interest in my work grew by word of mouth in the early days.
How did you adapt to your new craft?
There were a few essential skills I needed to pick up. It takes you about ten years to understand the willow in your hand, to know whether it's too thick or too thin or to be able to work with ash to stop it splitting, for instance. Having a critical eye and striving for perfection were an important part of the progression. This is where my experience of working in crafts and art-school training came into their own. You have to work hard at twisting rods to make a perfectly round or square basket.
You are based in Galloway in Scotland. In what way has your local environment influenced your work?
Although many of my baskets are interpretations of traditional British, Irish or French designs, it is the nature and landscape of my native Galloway that has inspired me most as it once did Rennie MacKintosh, who painted here.The area has also been a constant sourceof materials.
When I started out I found it had an abundant natural supply of willow as well as larch, rowan and heather. I grow my own now as I feel this brings integrity to the whole process.
I have to harvest, store and then soak the raw materials before starting a basket but at least I have a "gaggle" of women to help me in return for a short course in basket weaving. Harvest time falls in the winter and it's sometimes snowing when we're out in the field but we have fun - a lot of gossip is exchanged!
At the start of your career you concentrated on traditional baskets and then moved on to non-functional pieces. Why was this?
I started to look for new ways of using willow because I wanted people to see its beauty. While out on a walk one day I cut some catkins off a birch and made a sphere out of it.
The work featured on the front cover of a magazine and interest in my less functional work suddenly increased. Within a short time I had offers to exhibit in several galleries. I think my work struck a cord with people who want a reminder of the simple pleasures of nature.
What new projects are you working on?
My latest subject is ash. I am making vessels out of its beautiful tall silvery pale- grey stems dotted with black buds. It is not as well behaved as willow but ash is sleek and sensual. There are a number of one-off commissions I am working on too. These include a wall "sketch" that will be very fluid like the ash vessels and formed so the light casts shadows behind it. I will be displaying these pieces on my website over the coming months.
Lizzie will be at Chelsea Crafts Fair,
October 11th - 16th.
Call 0901 331 0035 for more details
about Chelsea Crafts Fair.