JoElla ManningFrom 2013 to 2015 I wintered with my husband on a boat in Marathon Key, Florida, and every Thursday happen to be basket making day when a dozen other cruisers would gather to coil pine needle baskets. I resisted at first as fabric collage was my expression, but I gave it a try and was immediately hooked. I couldn’t wait for each following winter. It was a great time and I was thrilled with my new medium. Fortunately, Florida is abundant in Longleaf Pine which enables me to collect and prep ample supplies, and although labor intensive, a fresh Fall crop of Longleaf is irresistible. Little did I know how enduring the entire process would become.
Every basket begins as a blank canvas demanding a composition. Inspiration sparks from a chosen center of clay, stone, gourd, wood, metal, dichroic glass, etc., some my own design, and all cored with the lowly pine needle, and more recently Virginia farmed sweetgrass. This pairing of various materials with natural fiber fuels design choices, so in my contemplative and patient approach I set out to harmonize the materials. Although a traditionalist at heart and resist forcing an esthetic, I approach my work as a design challenge. Basketry offers sculptural shaping as well as the joys of design; rich in color, tension, texture, repetition and so on, and like a painting I hope to evoke a mood that draws the viewer to pause and process, much like my own experiences while working. However, every completion tends to skirt an ideal so I usually conclude that finished is better than perfect.
Selling my work is always a happy event, especially during an exhibit, but teaching offers the greater satisfaction. A motivational force to be more exploratory is to make what I can teach; thus, the anticipation of my students is my muse. Exposure to new techniques and materials at workshops are exciting if they allow me to develop rather than deviate. Nadine Spier and Elizabeth Whyte Schultz have influenced my work and I admire and follow many others. Grateful to the basketry community and fondly reminiscent of those early basket making days in the Florida Keyes, basketry now offers design challenges, sculptural expression, and teaching opportunities; all of which have melded into a time of contentment.