East Anglian Basketry craftsmanship celebrated at Norwich University College of the Arts show

By Richard Moss | 26 January 2011
a photo of a large winged basket
Herring Swill by Terry Bensley© Terry Bensley
Exhibition: East Anglian Basketry, The Gallery, Norwich University College of the Arts, Norwich, until February 12 2011

The craft of basketry and the region of East Anglia go back a long way. For millennia it has been the commonest form of packaging and carrying, and its history reflects a strong tradition of basketmaking in the eastern counties, where it is still active in supplying local and wider demand.

Now a new exhibition at The Gallery at Norwich University College of the Arts (NUCA) is reflecting on its scale and diversity by presenting 40 examples of basketry made in the region and showing extracts of films dating back to the 1930s.

a photo of a beehive shaped basket
Bee skep – maker unknown© Lent by Henry Layte
Exploring how basketry has been applied to new contexts and adopted new practices, it also reveals how the form has incorporated ingenious changes in style and function.

With the work of artist-basketmakers on show beside those of craftspeople, visitors will be able to see ingenious bee-hive baskets, find out about the eel baskets of the Norfolk broads and see a range of finely crafted examples - ranging from Terry Bensley’s Herring Swill basket to the robust functionality of the Sid Brouet Lead Basket.

Shown in conjunction with Basketry: Making Human Nature, which opens at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on February 8, the exhibition is the brainchild of distinguished basketmaker Mary Butcher and Senior NUCA Lecturer Victoria Mitchell.

a black and white photo of a man standing in a canoe loaded with long baskets
Ernie James with eel hives at Welney, 1955.© Lent by Mary Butcher
“The East Anglian basket is relevant to the challenges faced by modern society,” says Butcher. “It is a sustainable product that will give many years of good service, mellow gracefully, be much admired and give pleasure to the senses.

“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.”

Co-curator Mitchell will give an open lecture, Transforming the Traditional in Contemporary Art and Design, at NUCA’s Duke Street Lecture Theatre at 5pm on February 3.
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