It’s funny that, when we want to describe an easy course at a university, we roll our eyes and say, “It’s, um . . . like Basket Weaving 101, you know?” — because basket weaving, an art that dates back more than 9,000 years, isn’t easy at all.
“I gather my needles for baskets from Ponderosa Pine trees mostly here in the Methow Valley,” explains basket artist Lauralee Northcott of Winthrop. “After removing the connective end and washing the needles, I put them in a bath of water and glycerin and boil them for about three hours.
“They’re cooled, rinsed, and left to dry for a month. Now they are ready to weave.”
With weaving comes the eye for detail, an incorporation of color and beadwork, and the swift, deft hand movements that, after a while, leave one’s fingers feeling stiff.
“All basket making requires patience and perfection,” Northcott says. “While weaving is relaxing, it is also physically demanding, and requires a lot of time. But the payoff of making a beautiful item to go out into the world is very satisfying.”
Basket Weaving and Country Music
Northcott’s fascination with and ability to create baskets joins with a plethora of other life skills, including a career (now retired) as a public school teacher, 30 years as a wilderness horseback trail guide and pack cook, motivational speaker, and professional singer/musician whose group, Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band, was the 2015 Western Music Association’s Group of the Year. That same year, their album, “All I Need,” soared to the #2 spot of the U.S. Western Music Category.
“Our shows feature great music, cowboy poetry, and lots of humor,” Northcott says, adding that they often travel with poet/comedian Dave McClure. One day, the group was rehearsing a skit involving the pretend product, Buck’s Crack Cream — “It was set to the tune of the George Jones song, ‘He Stopped Lovin’ Her Today,” Northcott remembers. “Dave had changed the lyrics to, ‘He stopped rubbing there today; Buck’s Crack Cream took the itch away.'”
In the midst of practicing, Northcott glanced over at McClure’s mother, Jeri, who was sitting on the hotel bed with a low cardboard box in her lap.
“Inside the box were pine needles. Her fingers were moving swiftly as she wove the needles into a coil — I was drawn to her immediately. The color variety of the needles, and the way they looked as they formed a circle was absolutely rich and vibrant.
“I was instantly smitten, and knew I wanted to make a pine needle basket.”
Persistence and Patience
She hasn’t stopped since, but then again, Lauralee Northcott is rarely still. Two years ago, she traveled to the Nevada State Museum in Carson City to see the work of basket maker Dat So La Lee, a member of the Washoe tribe who lived from 1829 to 1925. Dat So La Lee’s work, which Northcott describes as flawless, required a particularly gifted mathematical mind in order to produce the patterns for which she is famous.
“I read that one of her baskets recently sold at an auction for more than one million dollars,” Northcott says. Northcott had tried once before to see the famous basket maker’s work, but was turned away because of museum renovations. The second time around, her luck wasn’t much better when the desk man in uniform brushed her aside with the news that the work was still unavailable for viewing.
“I felt dismissed. I stood for a moment to gather myself and then in a polite voice asked to speak to the curator. He picked up the phone, making no eye contact, and made a call. ‘He’ll be right out,’ was all I heard as the man turned away.”
Persistence paid off, and for the next hour Northcott enjoyed a personal tour conducted by a man who loved and appreciated the work of a master. Northcott found herself crying tears of awe as she watched, listened, viewed, and, in her words, “literally heard voices coming from the basket makers in that room. I could feel emotions being emitted by the baskets, and sensed warmth from their creators.”
Small World, Big Connections
In one of those small world moments, when Northcott mentioned she was from Winthrop, WA, a town of 300 people, the curator started and said, “My brother lives in Winthrop!”
Northcott makes friends wherever she goes.
“The most lasting takeway from the Carson City Museum experience was the deeply spiritual realization that we are truly all connected through time,” she reflects.
“Weaving gives the same gift to me as it did to Dat So La Lee and all weavers: your breathing slows down and your mind relaxes as the work takes you along.
“Really, I think peace is a gift from all craftsmanship. The force of creativity works through us in many ways, and it is our task to get out of the way.”
Lauralee Northcott will be at Wenaha Gallery in person Saturday, September 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. to talk about and demonstrate basket making; free refreshments by Savonnah, the gallery’s framer who is also a professional chef, are also featured. Northcott will return to the gallery Saturday, October 7, as a featured speaker at Wenaha Gallery’s ArtWalk. Northcott’s Art Event, featuring a collection of her baskets, starts Monday, September 11 and runs through Saturday, October 7, 2017.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.