Basket loan to Smithsonian

hands on gallery at the Renwick

hands on gallery at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

When Nicholas Bell asked Katherine to donate the use of one of her willow baskets for a hands on gallery at the exhibition “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets”, she was happy to participate. Katherine took the photo above when she visited the museum back in November, 2013, and you can see Katherine’s basket on the far right. It’s a well made panier à jour with slat willow base, one of Katherine’s ‘signature’ baskets. It was one of eight baskets displayed in this area where museum visitors had the opportunity to pick up the baskets and examine them.

Since the public would be handling the basket, the Renwick Gallery would not insure its value or final condition. It was an understandable and reasonable risk to take for the opportunity to present Katherine’s work to the many visitors. The Smithsonian did agree to return the basket after the exhibition closed on December 8, 2013.

A Measure of the Earth hands on basket

A Measure of the Earth hands on basket

When the exhibition closed we were notified that the basket loan would be returned later that week. December went by so we contacted the Renwick Gallery in early January and were told that we would receive it by the end of the month. In February we contacted the Art Registrar who handles all the shipments of artwork for the Smithsonian. After a couple of emails they replied that the basket was still in the process of being returned. Now it is March, three months after the exhibition closed, and we are still waiting. We already had to deal with a government shutdown that delayed the opening of the exhibition so we figure another delay is just the way things are done in the “other Washington”. “Thank you for your patience.”

P.S.Katherine Lewis Renwick Gallery touch basket The basket was returned March 6 three days after making this post. The basket was double boxed with loads of padding. By the date of 12/11/13 marked on the inner box it is clear that the Renwick Gallery staff did a timely job the week after the exhibit closed. It’s also amazing how little wear the basket shows after spending a couple of months in the gallery for many people to touch it. I thought I heard a ‘sigh’ when I opened the box, like the basket was happy to see the light after spending three months boxed up in a Smithsonian warehouse


Visit to the Cole-Ware Collection

Katherine Lewis at the open Renwick Gallery

Katherine Lewis at the open Renwick Gallery

Katherine traveled to the other Washington to visit “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The first time we ran into the federal government shutdown. This time around the doors were open for visitors.

She was able to tour the exhibition with Steve Cole who collected all the baskets. Hearing Steve’s stories about finding the basketmakers and collecting the baskets was a real treat. They also visited with exhibition curator Nicholas Bell, and all three posed for a photo next to Katherine’s Irish Potato Basket which invites visitors in to view the baskets.

Steve Cole, Katherine Lewis, Nicholas Bell at Renwick Gallery

collector Steve Cole, basketmaker Katherine Lewis, curator Nicholas Bell at Renwick Gallery next to a Lewis willow basket.

Hands-on exhibit at the Renwick Gallery

Hands-on exhibit at the Renwick Gallery

Photos weren’t allowed in the exhibition but Katherine did take a photo of the “Hands-on gallery” from the adjacent museum gift store. You can see Katherine’s fitched willow market basket on the right end of the table. The baskets in the hands-on area are tethered to the tables with a cord, and visitors are encouraged to pick up the baskets to feel and view them in detail. Another nice surprise was seeing one of Steve’s photos of the Dunbar Gardens basket willows used in this area (on the far left in the photo).

Katherine has six willow baskets in the exhibition in addition to the “hands-on gallery” basket. Fortunately the Smithsonian American Art Museum posted a set of photos of the exhibition to their Flickr photo gallery. In this photo courtesy of the Smithsonian you can see four of Katherine’s baskets in a display with other willow baskets.

A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets

Katherine’s baskets are on the left: Red & White Panier à Jour, Zig Zag Shopper, Willow Bark Tray, and Bicycle Handlebar Basket. You can view our photos of all these baskets in a previous post. Another one of Katherine’s baskets is a willow rope coil weave basket that was given a featured position in the gallery as you can see in this photo courtesy of the Smithsonian. The Rope Coil is at the perfect height for viewing both the exterior and interior details. (However we were a little perplexed at the chosen background of a hay field, and wondered why they didn’t use one of the Dunbar Gardens willow photos used in the exhibition catalog to represent the landscape from which the basket is created.)

A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets

Katherine had a wonderful time in Washington, DC. Although she did visit other museums, she visited the Renwick all three days she was there. She saw Steve Cole there all three days as well; proof that he spends a lot of time sharing stories with not only the basketmakers but other visitors as well. Steve was kind enough to spend a little more time with Katherine and her friend and basket buddy Sharle who flew out from Washington for the weekend.

Renwick Gallery signKatherine is honored to have her work included in this wonderful display of American basketry. There are over 100 baskets by 63 basketmakers working with a variety of materials. If you are interested in baskets, the exhibition is definitely worth a visit. You can find more information and links at the Smithsonian website. It runs through December 8, 2013.


Cole-Ware Basket Collection Exhibition

Irish potato basket - Katherine Lewis

Irish potato basket by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

“A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” exhibition will be on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from October 4, – December 8, 2013. There will be 105 baskets crafted by 63 basketmakers from this extraordinary collection assembled by Steve Cole and Martha Ware. Willow basketmaker Katherine Lewis is well represented with six of her baskets on display.

willow rope coil - Katherine Lewis

Steve Cole’s bowl by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

The basketmakers in the collection all work with natural materials that they forage or grow themselves. They harvest black ash, brown ash, white oak, cherry, willow, willow bark, birch bark, pine needles, sweet grass, honeysuckle vines and more. Materials are mostly processed with hand tools. The gathering and processing are as important to the work as the actual weaving of the baskets. Katherine’s work is integrated with farm life in the Skagit Valley where she grows and harvests her willow rods and bark for weaving.

Red and White Oval Panier à Jour - Katherine Lewis

Red and White Oval Panier à Jour by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

The collection represents the diversity of basketry traditions in the United States excepting those of Native Americans. The forms are mostly of functional design or the interpretation of traditional styles by these contemporary craft artists. Katherine takes satisfaction in knowing that many of the baskets she weaves are going to be used on a daily basis; and her baskets in the collection are really no different.

Zig Zag Shopper - Katherine Lewis

Zig Zag Shopper by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

The public opening on October 4 will give visitors the chance to meet many of the makers as well as hear from exhibition curator Nicholas R. Bell who will give a talk at noon. Katherine Lewis will be one of the basketmakers attending the open house. There are additional public programs during the exhibition’s run and the schedule can be viewed on the Smithsonian’s website.

Willow Bark Tray - Katherine Lewis

Willow Bark Tray by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

Part of the exhibition will be a “hands on” education gallery. Visitors will have the opportunity to handle baskets made by several artists in the collection. Katherine made one of her willow fitched market baskets, or panier à jour for this area. Curatorial assistant Debrah Dunner wrote: “I know the public will be delighted to engage with all the touch baskets, and will no doubt be surprised at how strong and substantial handmade baskets can be.”

willow basket - Katherine Lewis

“Hands on” gallery basket by Katherine Lewis

There is an exhibition catalog written by curator Nicholas Bell with a forward by Henry Glassie, Professor Emeritus of Folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington. There are photos of all the baskets as well as photos from the makers documenting their process and craft. The catalog, “A Measure of the Earth” can be purchased at the Renwick Gallery, through the National Basketry Organization, or

Harvested basketry willow at Dunbar Gardens

Harvested basketry willow at Dunbar Gardens. Photo by Steven Lospalluto

Of course, a huge thank you has to go to Steve Cole and Martha Ware for their generous gift. Quoting from a recent email from Steve and Martha, “For the artists, we have been very fortunate to have your work in our home and in our lives every day for many years. Now, nearly all of our baskets have moved on to the Renwick Gallery where they will be a part of the permanent collection. We feel proud to be able to make this gift and hope you are proud of your work and its place in the nation’s craft collection.” Katherine is proud and honored to have been included in the collection with so many outstanding American basketmakers.

Bicycle handlebar basket by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

Bicycle handlebar basket by Katherine Lewis. Cole-Ware Collection

A complete list of the baskets in the exhibition can be seen on the Smithsonian’s website. There is a pdf document with thumbnails and info about the makers.



February 2013 Newsletter

Greetings! Here is our current list of events and activities for 2013. We are especially excited about Katherine’s trip back east for the Cole-Ware Collection opening at the Renwick Gallery and the NBO conference at Arrowmont later in the year. Scroll on down for details of events, classes, and willow cuttings.

Spike inspects willow baskets

Upcoming Events

Artist Trust Benefit Art Auction: Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center, February 23, 2013. Annual dinner and auction benefits Artist Trust which supports Washington artists of all disciplines through grants, workshops and professional support. Katherine received a grant from Artist Trust to help fund her study with basketmaker David Drew in September, 2011. Katherine is donating one of her lovely panier à jour baskets for the auction. The auction is curated so there are some very nice works included which can be previewed on the website.

fitched willow basket by Katherine Lewis

MoNA Style 2012: Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA, March 16, 2013, 10-5. willow magazine basketThis annual show features wearable art and home furnishings from Northwest artisans. Part of each sale helps support the museum. Katherine will be there with willow baskets along with 35 plus vendors of handmade creations.

Stash Fest Insider Visit: April 6-7, 2013, La Conner Civic Garden Club.

Katherine Lewis willow basketmakerKatherine is donating a visit to Dunbar Gardens and her personal work space as part of this year’s StashFest which is an annual fundraiser for the La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum. StashFest attendees can buy a visit for one to three people to Katherine’s world or one of the other featured fiber artists. It’s a fun event for fiber lovers. You can check out all the details about the extraordinary fabric sales on the website.

A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets: October 4, 2013-January 12, 2014, Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery.

Katherine Lewis baskets in Cole-Ware CollectionKatherine has several baskets in this collection which was generously donated to the Smithsonian by collectors Steve Cole and Martha Ware. Katherine is planning on attending the opening of the exhibit in October. She is looking forward to meeting the collectors as well as many of the other artisans. As a maker of functional craft, it is an honor to be part of an exhibit at such a prestigious decorative arts venue. There will be an exhibit catalogue authored by curator Nicholas R. Bell with photos of all the baskets and interviews with the makers. There might even be a couple of photos of Dunbar Gardens in the catalog.

Willow Basketmaking Classes

Currently there are no classes scheduled at Dunbar Gardens or the Mount Vernon area. Katherine is busy weaving baskets while attending to family obligations so she has cut back on her teaching schedule for the coming months. Some of you may know that Katherine’s father passed away early this year and her mother has needed assistance settling affairs. However, Katherine is teaching at the request of some basketry organizations in other locations.

March 22-24, 2013: Salt Spring Island Basketry Guild in SSI, British Columbia, Canada.

Irish potato basket by Katherine LewisKatherine will be presenting a program on her 2011 willow travels in Europe as well as teaching a two day basketry class featuring the Irish potato basket. She is excited to visit weaving friends on SSI again. Details and registration are available on the Guild’s website.

October 8-13, 2013: National Basketry Organization Conference at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Katherine Lewis class willow basketsKatherine is honored to have been asked to propose a class for the NBO conference. She is going to be teaching scalloming and fitching with willow. Working with bark-on willows from Katherine’s farm, participants in this workshop will work on two techniques in willow basket construction, scallomed-on stakes and fitched sides. Scalloming involves cutting a tail on the end of the willow stake so it can be attached to a base hoop, making the size and shape of the basket dependent only on the hoop. Fitching is an open work weave. Combined with scallomed stakes, it makes a strong and lightweight basket with elegantly simple lines. Participants will learn different base construction methods before learning to cut scalloms. Projects will be tailored to each student’s individual weaving level. Students can expect to make one to two baskets or fitched trivets.

cutting basketry willow at Dunbar Gardens

Willow cuttings

It’s the time of year to order willow cuttings. We have a nice selection of varieties for planting listed on our website. Depending on your location, March through mid May is a good time to plant. There are planting tips on the website as well. If you need advice or have questions, send Steve an email.

Dunbar Gardens willow cuttings


We are open every day if you would like to look at the baskets we have on hand. You can also pick up willow cuttings, but please contact Steve in advance with an order.

Dunbar Gardens farmstand willow baskets

Facebook:  Dunbar Gardens has a Facebook page. We post photos of Katherine’s latest baskets, commissions, and photos of the farm.  You don’t have to be a Facebook user to visit our page and look at the photo albums we have posted there.

For more information about classes, baskets, willow growing, or our farmstand please visit our website. Thanks!

Katherine & Steve