The covid shutdown has not significantly impacted my schedule. I intentionally left my 2020 calendar mostly uncommitted, and 2021 has turned out open as well. Last year I luxuriated in a life of no deadlines and spent a great deal of it gardening to my heart’s content. I experimented with daylily leaves and new willow bark concepts and enjoyed taking the opportunity to slow down and refocus my creative intentions. Serious studio work has recommenced as I work on a large new piece in my ‘Woven Pots’ series.
Spring of 2020 I was invited to submit work to Casavells/Side Gallery in Barcelona, Spain for an international basketry exhibition. Seven works were shipped to Europe just in time for the pandemic to shut everything down. They are presently enjoying an extended showing in a stunning gallery environment, as well as wide online exposure on 1stdibs.com
Summer of 2020 brought an invitation to participate in an international online exhibition, lifewithobjects.com, as a response to the pandemic. This interesting project highlights individual designer’s contemplations of meaningful objects in their environments during the global shutdown. It is ongoing with new objects/artists being continually added to the exhibition.
Spring of 2019 I completed a commission for LOEWE, an old leather company and fashion house based in Madrid and Paris. They commissioned about ten basket makers from around the world to reproduce our individual designs in the company's leather for Salone Del Mobile, an international exhibition in Milan, Italy. This was an exciting project for me and I really enjoyed combining the leather with willow bark for my first international exhibition!
Summer of 2019 I was commissioned by Irthi Craft Council in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates to design a collection of camel leather handbags and travel to the country to lead a two-week training workshop. I worked with a group of traditional Bidwa weavers, teaching new technique to combine with their own ancient safeefah weaving style. Included in a collection of work representing modern interpretations of traditional crafts of the region, the handbags were exhibited in September at the London Design Fair in the United Kingdom.
This was a very challenging and enriching life experience! The artisan women I worked with were absolutely lovely and the culture fascinating. Though the time-line was tight, we managed to pull the project off and the bags were beautifully exhibited in the annual international design show. Work may still be virtually viewed in Hamriya Studios at http://irthi.com.
Fall of 2019 I was invited to travel to Berea’s sister-city region of Hokuto City, Japan on a cultural exchange visit with the Madison County International Committee delegation. After an enjoyable week exploring the lovely Yamanashi area, the delegation returned home and I stayed on to teach weaving classes to students in the local schools. I was beautifully hosted by artist friend, Yoshino Takahiro, and his family and loved the time spent with them. Husband Dave flew over and joined me for my third and final week to explore Kyoto and every temple garden we could find. We were charmed by the kind hospitality, gentle people, delicious food, beautiful aesthetics, gardens and ceramics of the country. I topped off this fantastic cultural experience with a visit to an astonishing Japanese basketry exhibition at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo. Quite a spectacular ending to an unusually eventful year!
In spring of 2018 I traveled to Ireland with a small group of basket makers led by Jo Campbell-Amsler. It was an absolutely delightful adventure and I was completely charmed by the country. The beautiful landscape, friendly people and ancient architecture made for as enchanting a place as one could imagine.
Our group took two workshops with well known Irish basket makers, Allison Fitzgerald and Joe Hogan. These provided me the opportunity to learn a good deal about the weaving techniques of traditional willow basketry which is very different from my bark work. Willow rod basketry is done from cultivated cuttings, generally one year old shoots, and is a centuries old traditional craft. Many different cultivars of willow have been developed over the years which offer varied selections of length, diameter, colors and flexibility. The finished baskets are amazingly strong, functional and very beautiful. Being a self-taught bark weaver working in solitude throughout my career, I very much enjoyed the experience of gaining age-old basketry skills from two traditional master makers. Both Allison and Joe do beautiful contemporary work, as well, but they honed their weaving skills in the old basket making traditions of the region.
Cozy peat fires, old pubs, charming cottages, ancient stone churches, cemeteries, walls and castles, delicious food, lovely cheerful people, good traveling companions, satisfying work and beautiful baskets....what could possibly be better than that?!
In August 2016 I journeyed with Jo Campbell-Amsler and six other professional basket makers to France and Denmark taking classes with Ane Lyngsgaard and Eva Seidenfaden, two outstanding women, weavers and teachers. They both hosted us in their enchanting homes, guided us to two amazing basketry festivals, one in Vallabregues, France, the other in Denmark, and made sure we all enjoyed a most memorable life experience. The variety, quality and richness of European basketry on display at the festivals was a stunning discovery for me and the whole two week traveling and learning experience an absolute delight! Our lodgings ranged from a beautiful country farmhouse to a medieval village home in the south of France, and Ane's astonishing old dairy factory turned home and studio to Eva's exquisite estate in Denmark. I worked with cultivated willow bark (different from the wild willow bark I use in my baskets), rush and iris leaves. I loved the softness of the damp leaves in my hands and look forward to experimenting more with those fibers.
I recently won the Bronze Award at the 2017 Smithsonian Craft Show. Pretty exciting!
Willow Bark Weaving Class by Billy Ray Sims