NBO member Aaron Yakim is awarded $50,000 USA Fellowship

Ribbed White oak baskets by Aaron Yakim

USA Fellowships were launched by United States Artists (USA), the national grant-making and advocacy organization, with generous support from the Ford, Rockefeller, Prudential, and Rasmuson Foundations.

They state, “Our mission is to invest in America’s finest artists and illuminate the value of artists to society. We believe that imagination and the will to express it artfully is key to the vitality of our society now and in the future. Since our inaugural year of 2006, we have awarded $15 million to 317 artists (including collaboratives) working across the country and in virtually every artistic field.”   

Early in the year they asked distinguished members of the national arts community to each nominate artists who, in their judgment, demonstrate extraordinary talent and commitment to their craft. Nominators were given the freedom to consider artists at any point in their careers.

Once nominations are in place a small group of artists from around the country are invited to apply for a $50,000 unrestricted fellowship award. USA Fellows are free to spend the funds any way they see fit, but it is hoped that the grants will enable artists to pursue their creative work more freely. United States Artists (USA) granted 50 such fellowships in 2011.

Panels comprised of experts met to chose the finalists, it is the USA Board of Directors which approves and gives the awards.   Awards were given to artists in various disciplines including: Architecture and Design, Crafts and Traditional Arts, Dance, Literature, Media, Music, Theater Arts and Visual Arts.

Excellence in ones work is the paramount consideration for the jury. USA Fellowships recognize and celebrate extraordinary artistic vision and are meant to provide an artist time to focus on his/her work. The potential impact of the award on an artist’s creative work is also strongly considered. The USA Board of Directors gives final approval for the fellowships. USA Fellows for 2011 were announced in December at an awards event in Los Angeles.

Aaron Yakim was named USA Ford Fellow in the Crafts and Traditional Arts discipline for his excellence in basketry.

Aaron states, “I make hand-split white oak baskets directly from the tree with hand tools, in the tradition of the central and southern Appalachian mountain region. In 1979, fifth generation basketmaker Oral “Nick” Nicholson of West Virginia introduced me to this regional craft. The strength and flexibility of white oak, lends itself to crafting a wide variety of dynamic shapes with flowing lines created by the wrapping, weaving, and technical ribbing methods. The simplicity of the basic techniques and the freedom to process my own natural material are appealing to me.  Focusing narrowly on traditional methods allow me to explore their limits.  The tree to basket process is what interests me.  Executing each step better with each project is my aim.  To me, the basket that pleases me most is the easiest to make with each step leading naturally to the next.  Harvesting a growing tree from the forest is a great responsibility.  I want to create an object worthy of that life.”

Aaron continues, “In my early years of basketmaking, my white oak baskets were simple functional pieces made of flat splits.  I also create rustic rib baskets commonly called egg baskets in my area of West Virginia.  After gaining more skills at finding good basket timber and preparing the materials from the tree, I explored more styles and was particularly drawn to the curves and lines of the ribwork forms.  Some of my innovations include:  a framework design for creating a swing-handled rib basket and an interwoven hinged lid “Non Tucket Rib” purse. This is the one which is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection.

“In 1994, I began working in tandem with Cynthia Taylor, my long time partner.  She introduced me to other traditional techniques and forms.  I started exploring different ribbing methods and refined my work.  During this partnership my basketmaking has reached a much higher level and there have been more opportunities to share my work with a much wider audience.”

“I now accept commissions for specific pieces and create my own interpretations of traditional forms (such as the Box Basket and Coal Basket).  I have designed detailed works to fulfill specific purposes, such as the Lidded Embroidery Basket.  I make my Egg Baskets of different sizes and shapes – looking for that perfect curve while refining the materials and adding subtle details such as a carved blip on the underside of the handle and new embellishments with various braid patterns.    Over the last 33 years I have made over 2,500 white oak baskets. This traditional craft has been my sole source of income for the last 23 years.   It is a tremendous honor to have been designated a United States Artist Ford Fellow.”

For additional information go to:  http://www.usafellows.org

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