Eastern Iowa traditions are woven through the Americana artistry coming to one of the most prestigious museums in the country.
Baskets by Joanna Schanz of West Amana, Laura McCaw of Tiffin and Jo Campbell-Amsler of Monticello will be on display from Friday (10/4) through Dec. 8 in the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
“A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets” showcases the revival of traditional basketry in the country during the past 50 years, featuring 150 pieces made by 68 weavers between 1983 and 2011. It also celebrates the gift of 79 baskets to the museum — and the promise of 20 more — from collectors Martha Ware and Steven Cole of Arlington, Va.
Museum officials say the gift more than doubles the museum’s collection of contemporary baskets, making it one of the leading public collections of this craft. Most pieces are being exhibited for the first time.
They represent a variety of everyday uses, from harvest and fishing to sewing and laundry, showing the importance of basketry to generations of Americans.
“I feel very, very honored to have a basket there,” Schanz says. “(The exhibit) is going to help promote basketry across the United States. It’s alive and still functioning and still growing.”
The artists work primarily with undyed plant materials — grasses, trees, vines and bark — they have planted, grown and harvested.
“In their search for materials, basketmakers cultivate an enviable knowledge of the land,” exhibit curator Nicholas Bell says in a news release. “Each basket crafted from this knowledge provides not only a deep connection to place, but also a measure of the earth.”
Schanz, 71, uses German willow techniques she learned from in the early 1970s from Philip Dickel in Middle Amana, the last active basket-maker weaving with willow in the Colonies at the time.
“Every village had a willow basketmaker,” Schanz says.
She continues the tradition by planting and tending willow bushes — not trees — then taking cuttings in the spring. After sorting and preparing the willow, it takes her about eight hours to weave each basket. The fruits of her labors are sold in her family’s Broom and Basket Shop in West Amana.
The exhibition also features a 10-minute film of interviews with various artists, including Campbell-Amsler.
The collectors and many of the artists will be on hand for the opening celebration. Schanz says she and her husband and Campbell-Amsler and her family will make the trek to Washington for the festivities and networking opportunities.
“I’m looking forward to getting together with other basketweavers that I know and have taught with,” Schanz says, as well as those she hasn’t met, but whose work she knows.
If you go:
What: “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets”
Where: Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Friday (10/4) to Dec. 8