Lois Russell

When I began making baskets in the 1980s, I made very useful baskets. Now I make very useless baskets.

I have worked with fiber all my life, knitting, weaving, sewing, hooking rugs with my grandmothers…and I still do all these things, but it is basketry that feels like home.

I have trouble working anything flat and find myself drawn to vessels…boats, bowls, baskets, coffee cups, buildings…because they interact with the space around them. They keep things in; they keep things out. They turn nothing into a space. Magic.

And I find myself drawn to basketry specifically because there is no end to the possibilities. Baskets are an invitation to play with shape, color and texture. The historical traditions are rich and the materials are everywhere. I have a machete in my car so I am prepared for any roadside vine, and I have a collection of those wonderful bright net bags the onions come in. I am sure they will be transformed someday.

But, for me, the strongest pull of baskets is that they seem so profoundly human. To my mind the first basket was two hands cupped together with the fingers intertwined.

I have studied with basket makers throughout North America to learn traditional techniques and work with the many traditional basketry materials. I have coiled pine needles and pulled cedar bark off trees.

In recent years I have focused on twining waxed linen thread although I still turn to coiling and knotting when my fingers beg for variation. And I return to bark and splint once in a while just to remind myself where this all comes from.

Most of my work now is sculptural and involves building baskets with “patches” of different twined patterns. I loved old patchwork quilts as a child and used to spend hours examining the patches, which in those days really did come from old shirts and dresses. They were full of design and history. Today I am making patchwork vessels.

I have developed techniques to create dramatic changes in shaping and added an inner wall, both to add stability and to set a more orderly field of color in contrast to the chaos on the outer wall.

In the past decade, my work has been featured in magazines and included in *500 Baskets*. It has been recognized with inclusion in exhibitions and honored with a variety of awards. I am grateful.

Basketry has become my world. I collect both historical and contemporary work. I teach when I can find time and I occasionally give a lecture or a gallery talk or work on exhibitions as a curator or juror.

In addition to my involvement with my regional guild and NBO, I am on the board of Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+). My home in Boston was on a neighborhood house tour to raise money for a local organization a couple of years ago and I am now known as “the basket lady.” I love it.

Web site: www.loisrussell.com

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