With its focus on American craft, the Renwick Gallery is one of my favorite museums. And since it’s part of the Smithsonian, it’s also free–so it’s totally okay to visit often! However, the gallery will be closed to the public beginning December 9 for renovation, so get to it quick if you haven’t been already.
The upper galleries are largely bare in preparation for the renovation, but downstairs you’ll find two exhibits. I need to go back to explore the Ceramic Art, but had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with the baskets. Each was (or still is) part of the collection of Arlingtonians Steven R. Cole and Martha G. Ware.
During a recent gallery talk by collector Steve Cole and curator Nicholas Bell, the collection was called “a national history of the basketry movement.” The baskets themselves are largely utilitarian and use natural materials harvested by the makers themselves.
These baskets are nothing like the one I remember making in a late elementary or early middle school art class. Most notably, because the materials for each are sourced–from trees, from grasses, from vines–directly by the maker. I had no idea the amount of time or preparation that went into a handmade basket. From harvest to finished piece, one might be weeks–or far longer–in the making.
To help bring it all home, I also saw Jamin Uticone, whose work appears in the exhibit, do a basket making demonstration.
Pounding on a log to compress the layers.
Peeling them off. Shaving them down.
Molding them into form.
And that was just a small part of the process!
There’s another Gallery Talk for “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” scheduled for December 3 and a basket making demo on December 7. And remember, the gallery closes on December 8.
So go see the baskets!