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Basketmakers offer weekend of learning

Members of the Headwaters Basketmakers Guild are hosting a three-day basket weaving workshop at the Finnish Village at Concordia Language Villages. Over fifty students will work with six professional weavers from throughout the region. Shown above Denny Carlson, Bemidji, left examines a Half-a-Pocket-Hanging Basket with an antler handle that instructor Jill Choate, Van Buren, Missouri will discuss on Friday evening's class. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - There is something to be said about the people who choose to practice an art form that has existed since the dawn of civilization.

This weekend, the Headwaters Basketmakers Guild will meet at the Finnish Village of Concordia Language Villages for their 17th annual workshop weaving "Up North."

Like-minded weavers from beginner to advanced skill levels using the ancient natural materials of reeds, fiber, vines, trees, fabric, cattails and birch bark will learn from each other and guest instructors. The participants spend the weekend, starting Friday night to Sunday afternoon, dining, sleeping and plying their craft in camaraderie and personal fulfillment.

Carbon dating has proven that people along the Nile River, some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, made baskets, and other remnants found in the Middle East were made 7,000 years ago.

Baskets pre-date the use of pottery made from clay and fired in open pits. Archeologists have discovered the remains of pottery with the imprints of the baskets that were used to hold the shape of the clay before and during firing. It is easy to imagine groups of women gathering reeds and grasses in preparation for building and weaving the domestic tools necessary for survival of their families in daily life.

Survival was the goal and perhaps those weaving times are today's book clubs or other social events shared by groups of women in friendship.

Jill Choate, one of this year's presenters, grew up in the Alaskan wilderness. She is noted for the adaptation of basketry to include the use of antlers. Choate now lives in the Ozarks of Missouri and travels across the country giving workshops and telling stories of growing up in the Alaskan bush, some 150 miles north of Anchorage with their sled dog team and few modern amenities.

One of the baskets in the advanced class she will be holding is named "Double Dog Leg" to be formed from natural fibers and topped with an antler.

Pam Talsky of Waterford, Wis., is another presenter who is noted for her functional vessels. However, this weekend she will be teaching participants how to make an Alaskan Yellow Cedar bracelet made from bark she gathered while visiting Thorne Bay, Alaska.

"The connection of weaving across the cultures continues to amaze and inspire me," Talsky said in a written statement. "Sharing my knowledge and continuing to learn from other weavers brings me great joy."

One of the projects Talsky will demonstrate is named "Cross Culture Cedar" basket because it is woven from Alaskan yellow cedar bark, tortoise shell from Asia and accents of beads or a fetish from Native American culture.

Other noted presenters are Diane Gleixner, whose website offers materials and patterns from the novice to the advanced weaver, and Eileen Spilman of Headwaters Guild, noted for the "Around the House Series."

Spilman's series includes planters and sturdy storage and kitchen baskets.

Monie Motin, guild president, teaches the art form and exhibits her work at Gallery North in Bemidji.

The guild, formed more than 20 years ago, meets at 9 a.m. the third Saturday of each month at the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Basketry is enjoying a resurgence in interest and workshops similar to the one in Bemidji this weekend are held across the country.

Event Chair Nancy Baer said the guild invites new members all the time. Those interested can reach her by phone at 366-1125 or email at and leave contact information.

There will be a charge for the materials used in the "trying it out" class.

"We love new faces," Baer said. "We are always looking for new members and one can come to the meeting without joining the membership."