willow bark basket

Jennifer Heller Zurick

On a recent visit to Kentucky I was fortunate to spend a day with Jennifer Heller Zurick in her workshop learning how to make a willow bark basket.  Jennifer makes beautiful baskets from willow bark which she harvests from black willow (Salix nigra) in Eastern Kentucky.  The harvesting and preparation of the bark is a very time consuming process and she does it all by hand.  She works with very narrow strips of bark and weaves beautiful ‘relaxed’ baskets which appear to be quite soft but in fact are strong.  She also incorporates wild honeysuckle into some of her baskets

The bark, when soaked, is quite spongy and it is a little bit like working with rush but it is much stronger and can be pulled very tightly.  I was only able to spend one day with Jennifer so she had kindly prepared the bark for me.  Similarly, I chose a simple shape and weave so that I could complete a basket in the time available.  I managed three weaves and a pretty diagonal weave border.  I had a really enjoyable day chatting with Jennifer and also got to see some of her amazing baskets, which can be seen in permanent collections in the US including the Renwick Gallery in Washington.  I also attended the private viewing of some of her work at the Mary Rezny Gallery in Lexington.