Redefining basketry

"Basketry in the 21st Century" at American Art Company

By Alec Clayton on July 28, 2017

If your idea of basketry is mired in the 19th century, you need to visit "All Things Considered: Basketry in the 21st Century" at American Art Company for an eye-opening.

This is not your grandma's basket weaving; this is contemporary sculptural art, free of all traditional restrictions as to what a basket can or should be. There is a wide variety of materials including wood, glass, beads, gut, metal and various found objects. Approximately half of the pieces in the show are shaped like various types of vessels - boxes, bowls, purses, seed pods. The rest are more like free form sculpture. Some are tiny, delicate and jewel-like, while others are massive and monumental in concept.

In the front window, there is a piece called "Garlic" by Pat Hickman that looks like long, flat, wide strips of sea kelp shaped into a huge clove of garlic standing about four feet tall. Any verbal description I can think of will sound ugly; it's squat, dull of color and rather lifeless, yet there is beauty in it and an undeniable strong presence, like a boulder thrown in your path.

The same can be said of Andrea DeFlon's "Save Our Children," a series of three boxes made of a dark, translucent substance, one box with an open face allowing viewers to see the fiery red floor and dark face inside. The boxes are stitched with darts of red thread. On the fronts and tops of the boxes are printed the gray faces of men and women - possibly children, it's hard to tell. They are gaunt, with dark shadowed eyes, and they appear ghostly and sad. This one is emotionally draining to contemplate. Celebrated Tacoma artist Jill Nordfors-Clark is represented by a couple of large pieces in needle lace embroidery, hog casing, reed, acrylic paint, and yarn. Her large piece "When a Tree Falls in the Forest" is a series of open-weave tubes in a brilliant golden color representing trees standing proud in a forest, with a single tree fallen and resting at an angle. This piece is powerful due to its size and upward thrust, yet extremely delicate in its construction of fine, see-through lace. Unfortunately, a colorful quilt stands behind it. There are quilts throughout the gallery, which are beautiful and complement the basketry well, but in this case the quilt conflicts with the basketry. This piece needs to stand in front of a blank wall.

One of the least basket-like pieces in the show is Leah Gerrard's "Cycles," steel wire and found object. Gerrard hails from Vashon. This piece reminds me of Marcel Duchamp's "Bicycle Wheel." A woven rope of steel wire that looks like intestines hangs from a pulley wheel, combining industrial strength with organic life. It is audacious and in-our-face, and like Nordfors-Clark's trees, it blends strength with delicacy.

Another local area artist is Barbara De Pirro from Shelton who is represented with a couple of modest pieces, "Bloom 2" and "Radiate." Both are made with what appears to be hundreds of "leaves" of white plastic that are layered like fish scales on wire mesh frames. "Bloom 2" hangs from the ceiling like some kind of nest or pod and "Radiate" is a circular form that seems to want to expand outward. Both are beautiful in their shining whiteness - a tribute to organic nature made with waste plastic, an intelligent concept beautifully executed.

This is the ninth installment of this biennial juried exhibition presented by the National Basketry Organization.

"All Things Considered: Basketry in the 21st Century," 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday through Aug. 26, American Art Company, 1126 Broadway Plaza, Tacoma, 253.272.4327,