Be A Basket Case In Oxfordshire For Museums And Galleries Month 2006

By Nicola Tann | 08 May 2006
A tiny leaf shaped basketresting on some grass

Leaf Basket by Dail Behennah - One of the mini-baskets to be found on the story trail in the garden at Oxfordshire Museum. Photo by Felicity Wood.

Basket making in all its forms will be the subject of a new three-part exhibition at the Oxfordshire Museum starting 20 May 2006 as part of Museums and Galleries Month.

The exhibition, inspired by this year’s Museums and Galleries Month theme, Making Connections: Past, Present and Future, will showcase examples of traditional Oxfordshire basketry with new work by local group, the Oxfordshire Basketmakers. The third exhibition will explore the use of willow, rush and straw in local weaving and will have baskets and materials for handling.

A range of Family Friendly events and educational outreach projects will be taking place alongside the exhibition, including a ‘Basket Day’ for the Young Archaeologists’ club at the museum and workshops at Campsfield Detention Centre and Bardwell Special School.

An old black and white photo of people taking baskets onto a train

Banbury Railway Station, with porters, passengers and luggage, 1905© Oxfordshire County Council Photographic Archive.

Adam Guillan, who is also Writer in Residence at the Roald Dahl Museum, has created a series of Story Trails that will lead children to mini-baskets hidden around the garden. These will lead up to the big story telling day on 8 July which will see Adam in the museum garden telling stories of baskets, old and new, next to the Big Basket, a giant basket 3 feet high with an 8 foot diameter created by local basketmaker, Matthew Lewis.

In addition to the exhibition, the group have developed the Oxfordshire Basketry Map, which you can download from their website at This gives you all the information you need to visit over a dozen museums in the county that have items on display that were made using basketry techniques.

“Baskets used to be everywhere. You’d start life in a Moses basket, and, when you finally gave up the ghost, you’d have been buried in a basket coffin,” says David Nutt of the Oxfordshire Basketmakers.

A huge basket with bushes growing inside under a tree

The Big Basket, built by Oxford based basketmaker Matthew Lewis, as seen in the garden at Oxfordshire Museum. Photo by Felicity Wood.

“The tragedy is that baskets were generally cheap functional objects and, when they wore out, were usually discarded,” he continues. “The map has been made so that you could see some of the Oxfordshire baskets that have survived.”

Items on the trail include a bee skep, a type of old wicker hive, at the Waterperry Rural Museum and a splendid six foot long eel trap at the River and Rowing Museum, an accurate replica of what, a hundred or so years ago, was a common object. You can also see some basketmakers’ tools at the Pitt Rivers Museum and the beautiful Banbury cake basket at the Banbury Museum.

A post-graduate volunteer with the group has also established links between local libraries and the museums on the trail. This has seen local libraries making people aware of Museums and Galleries Month 2006 by directing them to take advantage of their local museums.

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Nicola Tann is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer for Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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