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white basket trio birch bark woven lisa kostelak

Basket Making — Lisa Kostelak Perfects an Ancient Art

baskets rattan organic cedar rushes woven lisa kostelak

Surrounded by grasses and trees, a series of hand-woven baskets by Colville, WA, artist Lisa Kostelak, celebrates the natural world.

Once upon a time, and not that long ago, there was no plastic. For thousands of years of human history, if people wanted to carry something around, from babies to drinking water, they wove a basket. It took, and takes, skill, patience, and an eye for artistry to create a useful basket.

“I have been making baskets for 35 years,” says Lisa Kostelak of Colville, WA.

“I made my first basket in a craft store in a mall in Florida, when I was in just the right place at the right time.

“Though I had been interested in learning for a long time, it was hard to know where to start in the old, pre-Internet days.”

dandelion birch bark rattan woven basket artisan lisa kostelak

It’s about two-inches high. This little basket is woven from dandelion stems, birch bark, and rattan. By Colville, WA, artisan Lisa Kostelak

Today’s technology worship aside, one of the best ways to learn a craft that employs our hands, hearts, and brain is from an actual person who learned how to do it from another actual person. And it is for this reason that Kostelak, who taught herself painstakingly through books and a tremendous amount of trial and error, passes on what she knows through teaching small, personal classes. Basket Making 101, contrary to what we’ve been told all these years, is not an easy A.

Basket Making 101 Is Not an Easy Class

“I learned to weave using rattan, which is a readily available material from Southeast Asia. It is lovely to work with, and I still use it to make many baskets.

“Over the years I have expanded, using material that I forage locally, including cedar bark, tules or rushes, birch bark, bear grass, red osier, even dandelion stems. I am always on the lookout for stuff to weave with.”

white basket trio birch bark woven lisa kostelak

They’re graceful, elegant, yet connected to the earth. The bark-based handles of this trio of baskets adds the perfect finishing touch. By Colville basket weaver Lisa Kostelak.

So it’s not just a matter of unpacking a cardboard box of materials and following a sheet of directions. For Kostelak, basket making involves a solid knowledge of plants and their environment, as well what to harvest, when and how, and what to do with it afterwards to prepare it for weaving. (Show of hands here: who in the room has even heard of “red osier” or “tules,” much less knows how to identify and gather them?)

“I forage anywhere — my backyard, where I’ve planted willow, juncus, red osier, to weave with. I also use my fruit tree pruning, among other garden plants.

“My tules, or rushes, I get from a friend’s pond. We have a nice visit, then cut rushes and load them into my van.”

Sustainable Thinking

For cedar, she gets permission from a private landowner to select a tree that is damaged and will need to be taken down. Once it is cut, she strips off the outer bark, then peels the inner bark or cambium layer, which she coils up and cures for a year before soaking and cutting it into strips for weaving. On hikes through the Colville National Forest, she looks for bear grass, birch bark from dead trees, scouring rush, and whatever else catches her eye.

white basket woven handle lisa kostelak artisan

The basket itself has something to say about its final shape and form. By Lisa Kostelak, artisan weaver from Colville, WA.

“I always ask before harvesting live material,” Kostelak says, because an essential part of making baskets — by real, regular people throughout history — has been working with the environment, not against it. In today’s arena of industrial, profit-driven, multi-billion, even -trillion, dollar corporations, this respect for, and awareness of, sustainability is becoming as lost as the knowledge of making baskets.

“I love working in 3D, with shapes, textures, and colors, making something that is functional and beautiful,” Kostelak says. Her studio, she adds, was formerly known as the family room. With the kids grown and flown, she has commandeered the entire space, with foraged materials stashed everywhere.

“I love spending time there, with the music turned up as loud as it goes, just getting into the rhythm of the weave.”

Baskets Are Timeless Technology

Kostelak sells her work through area shops and regional craft shows, and her wares have found homes from Seattle to San Francisco, from New York to Florida, from Nova Scotia to New Zealand. There is no end to creative inspiration, she says, because the materials themselves are dynamic, redolent of life, tactile, and almost demanding to be touched, handled, interlinked and intertwined.

“I get new ideas while I work. Sometimes I get an idea from the colors or textures of material stored together. Sometimes I dream a basket, and write it down when I wake up.”

The skill, and the baskets, transcend time, and there is a rush (no pun intended) to creating something that artisans have been making for far, far longer than industry has churned out plastic bags and petro-chemical products. There’s a human touch that endures from one age to the next.

This is good to remember the next time we overhear someone scoffing that a class is as easy as Basket Making 101. We can be free to retort,

“Have you ever actually woven a basket? It’s not as easy as you think.”

Wenaha GalleryLisa Kostelak is the featured Art Event at Wenaha Gallery from April 20 through May 17, 2021.

Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

 

Fractured Terrain, original oil painting, by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

The Unexpectedly Unconventional Square — Showcasing the Landscape Art of Gordy Edberg

Fractured Terrain, original oil painting, by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Fractured Terrain, original oil painting, by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

In the mid twentieth century, the term “square” was derogatively used to connote a boring traditionalist, one reluctant to take chances or break out of the box in his or her thinking.

For 21st century artist Gordy Edberg, however, square is the new unusual, and the landscapes which he paints in this format are not constrained by what he calls the typical, conventional horizontal format that people have come to expect.

Endless Fields, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Endless Fields, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

“The square format, with its harmony of shape, is a useful and non-natural approach,” the Whidbey Island artist says.

“By using the square structure, the landscape subject is contained more, and it removes the expected topographical connotations.

“Thus there are segments . . . fragments . . . sections of the landscape and their abstract qualities which are allowed to come forward.”

Edberg, who has been painting since high school 60 years ago, approaches his artwork from the perspective of an architect, a profession he made his central career for 41 years. The combination of the two disciplines results in Edberg’s signature style, one “grounded in realism with a leaning toward impressionism.”

With a principal focus upon the landscape, Edberg says that, although he does not purposely make political statements with his art, he is fascinated by the existing environment, and how it is changed by man’s impact upon it. There are buildings, roads, pathways, patterns, and how they integrate with their surroundings creates and shapes the finished piece. The very nature of lines themselves — an element strongly used in architectural drawing — invites the artist, and his viewers, to explore the realm of abstract within the world of reality.

Basin Hills and Fields, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Basin Hills and Fields, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

“I look for change occurring, things disappearing, other characteristics of the environment that suggest potential for abstraction expressions,” Edberg explains. And herein that square format intensifies the fluidity of form and shape, emphasizing the transcendental in the midst of physical reality, bringing out the best of each.

“The goal is for the formal subject matter to be seen as a composition, an arrangement of shapes and colors and with aesthetic qualities while still suggesting place,” Edberg says.

While Edberg has painted landscapes from throughout the Pacific Northwest and the west coast, as well as forays into Hawaii, Mexico, Ireland, England, France, Italy, and Greece, it is his Southeastern Washington landscapes that showcase, boldly, the integration of line and form, abstract and reality, outline and shape. Large, illusorily monochromatic fields and agricultural spreads are intersected by roads, power lines, waterways and the patterns of the fields themselves, a balance of both natural and man-made factors.

Power Grid, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Power Grid, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Shots of unexpected color, calligraphy, textured paint, and marks and incisions upon the substrate surface enhance the mood and setting of the work, creating a place that is real and identifiable, yet not remotely as a camera would capture it.

“Landscape images and also urbanscape and marinescape images painted in the studio are many times imagined in response to the mood and feel of actual places that I’ve sketched or painted en plein air,” Edberg says. In the spirit of fluidity and freedom, he refers to plein air paintings or onsite sketches for his studio pieces, and does not rely upon the camera.

The goal is to catch the mood, the place, the feeling, because within each landscape, Edberg feels, there is a story, and it is his pleasurable goal to tell that story.

Wheat Road, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

Wheat Road, original oil painting by Wenaha Gallery artist Gordy Edberg

In addition to creating his oil-painted landscapes, Edberg also works in pastels, as well as designs and builds wood furniture. To do as much as he does requires space, and Edberg’s studio in the upper floor of his home is set up with four painting stations, including a wall easel which can accommodate up to six-foot sized paintings. The garage houses his woodworking equipment and tools, and, in addition to furniture making and packaging and shipping of paintings, another important activity takes place there: the cars can still be parked within.

That’s the architect, sharing space creatively with the artist.

A signature member with the Northwest Pastel Society, Edberg has earned awards from both that organization and the Puget Sound Group of Northwest Artists, and he has received Best of Show at the Washington State Convention Center Art Exhibition. His work is housed in both private and corporate collections throughout the U.S., and he maintains paintings in galleries on both the East and West coasts.

The architect may be retired, but the artist is very busy these days.

Wenaha GalleryGordy Edberg is the featured artist at Wenaha Gallery’s Art Event from Monday, May 4 through Saturday, June 13, at Wenaha Gallery, 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA.

Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail art@wenaha.com. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.

Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists.   Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.

This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.