WILLIAMSBURG — In a backroom of the Whitley County Extension Community Art Center, a historic art form is being kept alive by Alice Fae Wieland.
Wieland, a retiree, teaches basket weaving classes once a month from 10 am until 2 pm, though she herself said the artists rarely get done by that time.
Despite it being a class in which Wieland offers insights and lessons into the craft, she insisted the group was just a chance “to finish up some projects.”
Wieland said she got into the craft after she retired in 2003, jokingly commenting that she “lived longer than she should’ve”. Since then she’s made over 300 baskets, several of which decorate the basket weaving group’s meet-up room at the art center.
She commented that it was something she wanted to get into with the available time she had post-retirement, saying it’s become a therapeutic pastime for her in the years since.
“It just relaxes me,” she said. “I like it. It drives some people crazy but it’s a relaxing thing for me. When you mess up it can get a little [stressful]my sister-in-law took a class with me one time and she came out a nervous wreck, so it’s not for everyone.”
She added that one thing that makes basket weaving especially fulfilling as a hobby is that “you get something when you’re finished” and that you can work at your own pace, whether that means you finish it in a week or finish it in a day.
The sentiment rang especially true for two basket makers in the group who were working on making blackberry baskets, enjoying the craftsmanship and work that goes into making the basket, but also having a useful gathering tool once the job was done.
Wieland expressed that she hoped to keep the artform alive, citing it as a dying art, mostly due to the costs and time.
A basket weaver within the group expressed that the modern day’s way of purchasing and manufacturing goods has all but killed small town basket shops, saying that when a large retailer like Hobby Lobby or Walmart sells a basket for three dollars after having it manufactured overseas, the local side just can’t keep up.
Wieland elaborated, “The material for one of these [baskets] starts at $20 for just the stuff,” she said, referring to a bundle of the wicker. “So the extension is really helping us with that and a storage place to put it, I couldn’t do this if it was out of my house.”
She would continue to joke that she doesn’t have the space, saying she did have a room that could be used, but it’s already full of baskets.
The extension Wieland referenced was what keeps the program, and several others afloat in the art center, with the classes and groups being part of a cooperative extension with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Wieland herself is at the art center purely of her own volition, being a volunteer teacher. She does not charge any members of the group to attend the meetings, making the group and lessons far cheaper than almost any alternative class. Classes are generally the first Monday of the month, unless it falls on a holiday, so July’s class is July 11 and August’s will be August 1.
“Whatever anybody needs or wants done we’ll tackle it,” she said. “Everybody was having baskets from other classes that they couldn’t finish and just sat around and you can’t use it [in that condition]. Anybody is invited and we’ll do whatever needs to get done. There’s nothing worse than taking home a project that’s not finished and leaving it in a corner for 50 years.”
Wieland also mentioned that on occasion someone won’t finish a basket and will donate it to the group for someone else to finish, just to ensure the materials don’t go to waste and the craftsmanship is not lost.
She joked that her dining room is full of baskets either that she’s made in their entirety or that she’s finished for other people, saying she just gives them away to people like her daughter-in-law.
The group isn’t only good for making standard baskets however, as an upcoming class being centered around a colorful Cherokee basket. Due to the nature of the advanced lesson, any attendees are required to have made at least one basket prior, demonstrating that they know the basics.
The Cherokee storage basket class will be a two-parter, taking place on July 19 and 21 from 10 am until 2 pm, with registration opening up on June 20. The class will only be able to take 10 people and will be led by Wieland herself.
While many may not see basket weaving as the most thrilling of hobbies, it would require the stoicism of a general war to not feel at least some interest hearing Wieland talk about her passion that she works hard to keep alive.
Wieland herself may joke about living longer than she should have, but at least in Williamsburg, Kentucky she has made a difference and has accomplished her goal of keeping basket weaving alive for years to come, inspiring those both young and old to return to tradition and learn the craft, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.