Artist Profile: Wendy Durfey

Basketry allows many options for creating curves and complex shapes in three dimensions by utilizing the widest range of materials and applications.  I consider my work to be a combination of a traditional craft and a contemporary art form.  I view the finished piece, not as an end in itself, but as a beginning for another basket.  Thus, the creative process continues.

Born in Guelph, Ontario, I graduated from the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Arts degree.  In 1980 I learned to weave on a loom and joined the Guelph Handweavers & Spinners Guild where I have been an active member for the past 32 years.  I completed the Ontario Handweavers and Spinners Weaving Certificate course at Sheridan College, Oakville, Ontario.  I was on the NBO Board of Directors from 2004 to 2010.

I spent 15 years weaving clothing, scarves, shawls, table runners and rugs on a full time basis, selling to craft stores and attending craft shows such as the One of a Kind Show in Toronto.  I also taught loom weaving in my Rockwood studio.  In 1995, I took a basketry workshop, instantly fell in love with it and ultimately changed my medium, now weaving only baskets.  Rather than weaving flat material, I was intrigued by the complexity of three dimensional pieces.  My textile background is reflected in my basketry work.

I began my career as a basket weaver creating traditional and functional baskets with traditional materials such as hand dyed reed, cane and black ash.  Eventually, I expanded my material list with sweet grass, birch bark, cedar bark, cattails, bamboo, wire, metal and archival paper.  I have taken many workshops from some wonderful basketry artists throughout the United States and Canada.  I have attended every NBO Conference since Ghost Ranch, New Mexico in 2002.  My work has been inspired by the colorful paper baskets of Jackie Abrams and the intricate wire baskets of Marilyn Moore.  I have exhibited in many juried exhibitions in North America.  I have been teaching silk fusion basketry at various locations such as the Stowe Basketry Festival, NBO Conference and Metchosin International Summer of the Arts, British Columbia.

In 2003, I enrolled in a 3 day workshop with Karen Selk, founder of Treenway Silks.  The topic was silk fusion.  The terms “silk fusion” and “silk paper” are generally used interchangeably.  Silk tops or rovings are used either dyed or undyed.  Silk fusion is a process that bonds silk fibers into a type of “felt” which can be very thin or quite thick.  Technically, it is not a felting process in the traditional manner (wool felts because it has scales that open up when wet or agitated and then clings to itself producing a felted fibre).  Silk, on the other hand, is very smooth and has no scales to cling to each other.  The silk needs a little help to fuse itself together.  There are various adhesives on the market that can be used to bond the silk fibers together.  Most silk fusion is made into a flat fiber using screening to hold the fibers together.  Layers of silk fiber are placed between the screens and then the adhesive is applied.  Today, many fiber artists are using this method for wall hangings, quilts, etc.

On the second day of the workshop, I carried my pasta machine to class and received some odd looks.  I began to cut my sheets of silk fusion, made the previous day, into 1/4 inch strips.  These were woven into a basket.

I further experimented with the technique of silk fusion merging watercolor paper and silk into my basketry.  Now, I weave the basket using watercolor paper and apply the silk directly to the basket.  The texture of the woven basket is seen under the colorful silk layer.  It is a subtle effect.  This technique has pointed me in a whole new direction of basket making.  Many people comment that some of my baskets resemble raku.  As a former loom weaver, I am drawn to the intense colors and the sheen of the silk fiber.

I draw a lot of my inspiration for basketry shapes from pottery.  Japanese and North American basketry designs have influenced my work.  The technical background of my loom weaving experience is expressed in my work.  I constantly refer back to loom weaving patterns to insert designs in sections of the basket.  Silk fusion covers most of the basket; but the design pattern is left exposed.  This juxtaposition of the silk fusion and the woven design creates a connection of traditional weaving with the contemporary look of the colorful silk fusion.

Whenever I am at a craft show or exhibition, people always comment on the progression of my baskets from year to year.  I am always adding new techniques to my work; building on previous ideas.  As I am working on a basket, I always ask myself the question “What if I added this or changed that”?

Starting with my original idea of a silk fusion basket, I have used knitted and crocheted wire on my lids. I experimented more with wire and began adding a looping technique to my work.  This is simply an open buttonhole stitch with fine wire which is worked over the finished basket.   Then I left open areas without any looping and created negative spaces.  Eventually, different patterns of looping were added with the addition of beads.

Bamboo has a lovely sheen which works well with the silk fiber.  It is sometimes used as a third layer of the basket or as rim material.  Recently, I have cut holes into my finished baskets and attached looping designs into the opening and rimmed the hole with polymer clay.  This has moved me into another direction utilizing metal clay in my work.  I have bought a small kiln and am in the process of learning the art of creating and firing with bronze and copper clay.  I am now experimenting with some bead woven pieces as embellishments to my baskets.  It is interesting that I began my career weaving on a loom and currently I am beading on a loom.

In 2010, I was invited to be the folk-artist-in-residence at Joseph Schneider Haus in Kitchener, Ontario.  It was a very busy year teaching workshops, presenting a lecture and mounting an exhibition which was open for the whole year.  The theme of the exhibition was my progression from loom weaving to traditional basketry techniques and materials to contemporary methods and materials.  Since basketry is not well recognized in this area, the exhibition allowed me to expose and educate the public to traditional and contemporary basketry.

My basketry career has given me the opportunity to travel across North America and meet some great people who have become close friends.  My best supporter has been my husband, Ross Durfey.  He has always taken a keen interest in my work and is forever a source of encouragement.  I am not sure where the creative path will take me in the future.  I do know that path is in some way connected to every basket that I have created in the past.