Monthly archives: February, 2023

Process Notes: Christine Joy on Gathering Willow

Rosette early Christine Joy basket
“My early attempts in weaving sticks together. This one is called Rosette. It was the first time I could see some rhythm and pattern occurring. Rosette, brown willow, Christine Joy, 1988.

In July, I was invited to speak at the NBO Virtually Woven conference on the subject of how I collect the natural material I use to weave my sculptural baskets. I was initially reluctant, as I have had little experience with Zoom, and I questioned how much I would have to say about my collecting process. I am glad that I accepted the invitation as I discovered that virtual conferences are great. They provide an opportunity to see and hear many different people in their studios talking about the work they do. There is something casual and friendly about it. I am also glad because it gave me the opportunity to recall how my basketmaking all began.

My annual practice of collecting willow, which I have been doing for the last 40 years, is a process that actually began 10 years before I ever considered making a basket.

Christine Joy Cottonwood basket
Creek Bed, Cottonwood, red dogwood, sticks and bark, Christine Joy, 1988. “Trying to use everything I had collected and it did end up looking like something you might find in a dried creek bed.”

In the summer of 1973, I was staying at my parents’ home in rural, upstate New York. My mother and I took a class in rug braiding from a local woman. She had a large barn that stood empty until fall when the apple harvest would fill it up. While the barn was empty, she made rugs and taught others how it was done. What ensued after the first class was a summer of enthusiastic hunting, processing, and braiding. My mother and I became a focused team and there was a rhythm to our days.

We would go out early to hunt in second-hand clothing stores for wool garments. We would return home delighted with our discoveries. We would deconstruct the clothes, then wash and dry them, and cut them into strips. We sewed the short strips into long strips, then braided them. I was in charge of the braiding, usually staying up late into the night to braid all the material we had prepared.

Christine Joy Portrait
2021, collecting at my favorite willow patch. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By the end of the summer our rug was finished. It had been a fine obsession, made better by sharing it with my mom. The hunting, gathering, preparing, and creating process had become a part of me that I would put to use 10 years later when I decided to make a basket.

By the spring of 1982, my interest in making rugs was waning. I felt I needed a change and making a basket didn’t seem so much different from making a rug. So I went hunting in my back yard. I started cutting branches, stalks, whatever looked promising. I wasn’t looking for willow at the time, or any particular kind of plant, just branches that might work to create a basket shape. I used string to tie some of the branches together when I couldn’t get them to hold in place. What I remember most of that first time collecting material is the feeling of adventure and fun and wonder. Similar to the excitement I felt when I began braiding rugs.

1988 Christine Joy cottonwood basket
Less cottonwood, more willow and an attempt at a rim, Christine Joy, 1988. “Can’t remember its name.”

I hadn’t planned on continuing to make baskets. Luckily, I met someone who was also new to weaving baskets. She had taken classes from a willow basketmaker and was starting to collect her own material, so I joined her and learned a lot just by watching how she collected. I had a tendency to make big messy piles of sticks. She neatly laid her sticks out straight and then tied them in bundles. I followed her example when I saw how easily she could pack those bundles into her car. Collecting with my new friend increased my interest in making baskets. Having a friend, or a community, can do that.

Once I knew what willow looked like, I started seeing it everywhere. I would discover a patch growing in the summer and take note to return to it in the fall. I learned early on that fall, when the sap was down and the leaves had fallen, was the best season to collect. In my early forages for material, I cast a wide net. I could identify willow and I knew it was a traditional basket material, but I also collected rocks, pieces of bark, interesting sticks, cottonwood, cattail, and snake grass.

Sometimes I would climb the yellow willow trees to cut the suckers only to discover the tree willow is rather snappish. What ever I collected I would haul back home and play around with to see if I could construct baskets with the material. I remember being totally engaged with this task. I sometimes wonder if I am related to a magpie, those large beautiful birds that build huge nests in trees and line the nests with objects that they collect.

Christine Joy Pink Basket
Pink basket [by Christine Joy] is my first basket that occurred after I cut down stuff in my backyard. Had to plaster it with paper pulp clay to hold it together. You might look at it and think, I wonder what made her continue with basketry. I wonder that when I look at it, But then I remember it was a lot of fun.” 1984. Photo by Christine Joy.

I discovered a book by Char Ter Beest called Wisconsin Willow where she described how she collected her material along roadsides and in patches in Wisconsin. I still remember her advice to always take food and water because once you start collecting you don’t want to stop. I took it to heart, and never venture out without something to eat and drink.

I liked using the willow right after I collected it, when it was fresh and flexible. This meant I would have to weave with it before it dried so much it couldn’t be bent. This is different from a traditional willow basket maker who would dry the willow completely and then soak it. Soaking it makes it flexible again, and it shrinks less than fresh willow does. I had tried soaking willow, but I never really got the hang of it.

I have had to adjust my weaving style to compensate for the major shrinkage that happens with the green willow. I also started storing my willow in a freezer at the suggestion of Joanne Schantz, a willow basket-maker and teacher of the Amana Colonies. She said it would keep until I was ready to weave and also keep the willow bug-free. This information was very useful because I could prolong the fresh state of the willow for years.

Until 1999 I collected in many different places. Some close enough to home I would walk with a pack-basket to carry the sticks. Sometimes I would go as far away as Wyoming, a five-hour drive.

In all this collecting I learned a lot about willow, and it became my primary focus. How the feel of the withe could tell me a bit about how it would weave. How the look of the bark was an indication of health. Some years the willow would be pocked and breakable, and I would cut it down and put it directly in the compost.

I would cut it even though I couldn’t use it because I had discovered the best willow to weave with was the year-old growth. Cutting a year-old branch down to the ground and leaving enough length for more branches to grow from the nodes is called coppicing. It is a way to stimulate growth and does not hurt the willow. The next year the willow would come back and be healthy again and more abundant.

Christine Joy collecting willow
2021, collecting at my favorite willow patch. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I learned not to collect on a windy day. Wearing glasses is good protection for the eyes. It can really hurt to have a stick whip back and smack you in the face. Collecting alone can be a wonderful meditative time. Collecting with a friend is a wonderful shared experience. A little of both is a great combination.

In 1999 I was invited to collect a friend’s willow. She had planted it, but discovered it was much bigger than she wanted. I went out to look and discovered the most beautiful tall willow. My husband and I cut it all down, and it was enough to fill my freezer. For the past 22 years that has been my main source of material. I am thankful I have a patch I can count on. The area I live in has changed a lot since my early days, and I am reluctant to collect in public areas and during hunting season. All the places I go now are privately owned. People who live close to a potential forest fire area keep the land around their house cut and free of brush. I frequently benefit from this practice and my gathering in these areas is welcome.

I look back at how I started with great enthusiasm, but little knowledge. I knew I had the tenacity to figure it out because I had first-hand knowledge of hunt, gather, process, and create. I didn’t have my mom with me this time or an instructor, but I met friends, read books, and joined guilds.

I also had willow, a material that continues to amaze me with its abundance and beauty. It delights all my senses. When I see a bundle of willow, I think it is the most wonderful sight. When I am out in a patch, I feel like I am collecting something as valuable as gold. 

Christine Joy
September 2022

Artist Focus: Ferne Jacobs

Installation Photo of Building the Essentials: Ferne Jacobs
Installation Photo of Building the Essentials: Ferne Jacobs. Photo: Madison Metro, Craft in America

At the forefront of the revolution in fiber art, Ferne Jacobs has been creating innovative work since the mid-60s. At her retrospective in 2022 in Los Angeles, Building the Essentials: Ferne Jacobs, the Craft in America Center noted that Jacobs is recognized for her mastery of material and process. Reinventing and advancing traditional techniques used for basketry, including knotting, coiling, and twining, Jacobs has generated an entirely new language of sculptural art. Her acute sense of color melded with her poetic and intuitive approach set her work apart. You can order a copy of the catalog at

Ferne Jacobs Portrait
Portrait by Carter Grotta

Ferne Jacobs began as a painter, exploring the possibilities of three-dimensional painting in the mid-1960s, before moving to weaving after workshops by such avant-garde fiber artists as Arline Fisch and Olga de Amaral. After the American Craft Museum (now Museum of Art and Design) exhibition Sculpture in Fabric (1972), Jacobs gained national attention for her work. Jacobs has taught and lectured on fiber arts and design since 1972. She received her M.F.A. from Claremont Graduate University in 1976 and has been featured in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. She is the recipient of the Flintridge Foundation Award for Visual Artists, and in 1995 she was named a Fellow of the College of Fellows by the American Craft Council. 

Red Sculpture by Ferne Jacobs
3fj Interior Passages, Ferne Jacobs, coiled and twined waxed linen thread, 54” x 16” x 4”, 2017.
photos by Tom Grotta

Jacobs’ work is meticulous, intensive and personal. She felt particularly close to Interior Passages, “as though we are one and the same.” She says that “[t]his has never happened so completely to me before. It has caused me to ask why, and to try to find a way to explain it to others. In the world I find myself today, feminine values are often desecrated. I am beginning to understand that there is no such thing as a ‘second class citizen’ — anywhere, anytime. There are aspects of world culture where weak people try to control others; because that is the only way they feel their own existence.” Interior Passages emphatically resists that approach. “Interior Passages knows she exists,” Jacobs notes. “She needs no one to tell her who she is or what she is. She knows her value, and I expect the world to respect this inner understanding. When it doesn’t, I think it moves toward a destructiveness that can be devastating.”

Green Basket sculpture by Ferne Jacobs
4fj Open Globe, Ferne Jacobs, coiled and twined wax linen thread, 13” x 13”, 2001. Photo by Tom Grotta

Open Globe reflects Jacobs’ reaction to the environment. “The title Open Globe came from experiencing the piece as I was making it,” Jacobs explains. “In my mind, it was the earth. The colors green, brown, blue, grey are the elements on our planet. Open came because there is no bottom or top. The piece is open, so can we see the earth as a globe/ball and open/unending.” The undulations in Blue Wave operate on numerous levels, conjuring ancient Greek pottery, wave froth and water, and the female form among other references.

Detail of Blue and white Ferne Jacobs wall sculpture
5fj Blue Wave detail, Ferne Jacobs, coiled and twined waxed linen thread, 19” x 17.5” x 6”, 1994.
Photo by Tom Grotta

Jacobs’s work is found in many public collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, the de Young Museum, San Francisco, California and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island. 

Ferne Jacobs’ work will be included in browngrotta arts’ spring 2023 exhibition Acclaim! Work by Award-Winning International Artists. You can order a copy of the catalog Ferne Jacobs: Building the Essentials at

Ferne Jacobs Building the Essentials catalog

Pop Culture as an Art Influence

Pop culture is a potent inspiration for artists, from Andy Warhol’s portraits of Liz Taylor Marilyn Monroe and Superman. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck for Roy Lichtenstein (On a Dare from His Son, Roy Lichtenstein Unwittingly Invented Pop Art, Alina Cohen, Artsy, October 1, 2018) and Pinocchio and Mao Tse-tung for Jim Dine. 

Ed Rossbach Sports Illustrated silk screened fabric
164r Sports Illustrated, detail, Ed Rossbach, commercial cotton fabric, dye, silk screen, heat transfer printed, 132” x 42”, 1980. Photo by Tom Grotta

Artists whose work is shown by browngrotta arts are not immune to the attractions of these images. Ed Rossbach, is one such artist — he created a printed textile based on images from Sports Illustrated — highlighting advertisements in particular. Other works featured John Travolta and US astronautsRossbach is best known for including Mickey Mouse in many examples of his work — woven in damask, painted on cedar baskets, illustrated in lace, featured in embroidered photographs. Rossbach’s The New Mickey basket features images of Mickey throughout. He reportedly co-opted the world’s famous rodent in response to snide remarks about his classes and occupation. The motif came to be included in some of his best-known works — including works in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Cleveland Art Museum.

Ed Rossbach Mickey Mouse Basket
214r The New Mickey, Ed Rossbach, paper and various fibers, 12.5″ x 12.5″ x 12.5″, 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

“If you’re doing knotless netting, you need an image, or I want an image,” Rossbach explained in an oral history prepared by Harriet Nathan in 1983. “What image do you put in nowadays? Sometimes the images were there for you, certain religious images, and now in our culture, what images do you put in? So you put in Mickey Mouse, and it’s a statement about that, too, I think. I like Mickey Mouse. I think it’s partly because it’s a defensive attitude on my part, that what people think very much is Mickey Mouse. They refer to the classes that you teach as Mickey Mouse classes, and everything is just dismissed as, ‘It’s Mickey Mouse.'” Rossbach found that very damaging. “So I put a Mickey Mouse on baskets and the most elaborate textile; I wove Mickey Mouse in double damask,” he said laughing. “I did him in ikats. I’ve done a lot of Mickey Mouses. And Mickey Mouses sell,” he added wryly.

Glen Kaufmann Mcdonalds logo Prayer Rug weaving
001gk Prayer Rug III, Glen Kaufman, cotton, silk, 18“ x 15“ x 2.5”, 1983. Photo by Tom Grotta

In our recent work with the estate of Glen Kaufman, we discovered pop culture themes interested him as well. In 1983, he created a series works that took the form of diminutive prayer rugs with McDonald’s arches replacing the traditional mihrabs — arch-shaped designs that indicate the direction of Mecca.

James Basslers Trader Joe's bag
8jb Shop, James Bassler, made of brown paper Trader Joe’s shopping bags, cut and twisted and with yellow and red waxed linen thread; 16” X 10” , 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler’s interest was in Trader Joe’s market — literally. He created a bag from their bags. He wanted to introduce his class to the technology of spinning. What materials do we have readily available, he asked. “I spotted a Trader Joe bag on a table, in which I had carried supplies to class,” he says. “At that point, much to my surprise, I had established my lesson plan for the day. I told them that their first assignment was to cut and spin yam from a T.J. bag. I then demonstrated what it takes to do this … I proceeded to weave, using the resulting brown paper ‘yarn.’ As I wove, my concept crystallized to create a Trader Joe Bag. It took approximately eight bags, a lot of spinning and 2-3 intermittent years to complete.”

Helena Hernmarcks Juicy Fruit tapestry Commission
54hh Juicy Fruit, Helena Hernmarck, Photo by Tom Grotta

Popular products often serve as graphic inspiration. Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Tomato Soup can prints and Brillo boxes are prime examples. For a commission, Helena Hernmack created a collage that incorporated a Juicy Fruit label, then wove the imagery into a tapestry.

For more information about our artists, visit

Art Assembled – New this Week in January

The first month of 2023 was busy and exciting at bga! Throughout the month we’ve introduced our followers to talented artists all over the globe that we’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years – including work from: Irina Kolesnikova, Sue Lawty, Naomi Kobayashi, Lia Cook, and Heidrun Schimmel. Read on to learn more about these accomplished artists!

23-25ik Limited Space 1-3, Irina Kolesnikovaflax, silk, polyester, hand woven, 20″ x 16″ x 1.625″, each, 2022

To start off the month, we introduced you all to the work of skilled Russian artist, Irina Kolesnikova.  Kolesnikova has said that her works are often influenced by her daily life. She has said in her pieces you can often find aspects of her everyday life reflected in her work artwork. Kolesnikova state that these pieces often feature a glimpse into her alter ego, which she stated is “A slightly comic, clumsy human of an uncertain age (who is just a survivor struggling to keep his existence balanced.” 

However, when Kolesnikova emigrated from Russia to Germany in 2005, she says, “I got more air in my works. The combination of figurative elements with flying drawing lines or abstract spots of color has become more characteristic of my work. In the sketches I keep the principle of collage combined with freehand drawing.” We are fascinated by the evolution of her work!

 Sue Lawty
26-29sl Notes On Blue, Sue Lawty, block mounted woven linen and
hemp tapestry 6.3” x 4.75” (x4), 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Next up, we have the work of brilliant UK artist, Sue Lawty. Lawty can is recognized internationally for her meticulous exploration of the mediums she works with. More in particular, her stone drawings and weavings of lead, and of linen, like the piece you see here.

She has previously charted the journey of her understated and abstract works – stating that they are strongly influenced by a comprehensive engagement with remote landscape, geology and the passage of time. Her work is rooted in the emotional, spiritual, and physical engagement with land through construction and repetitive structure, and she has been be featured in exhibitions all around the world because of it.

Naomi Kobayashi
65nk Works 115-116, Naomi Kobayashi, washi paper, koyori thread,
india ink, cotton, 26″ x 30″ x 3.5″. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Things got even more interesting in January with the introduction to Japanese textile and sculpture artist, Naomi Kobayashi. Kobayashi has been making strides in contemporary art for over 50 years. Along the way in her later years as a creator, she stated that she began to strive for pieces that have an airy feeling and incorporate air/wind within them. She said she strives for pieces that are so ephemeral, they feel as if they might disappear at any moment.

Her pieces are often carefully crafted from weavings of thread and strips of washi paper on which she has written calligraphy. Together, these pieces form to create installations that speak of cycles of life, regeneration and death.

Lia Cook
49lc Boophone, Lia Cook cotton, rayon woven, 21.75” x 16” x 2″, 2021

January included art by accomplished American fiber artist, Lia Cook. Cook is a California-based artist who has been recognized for her science-inspired art and her works created out of a fascination with nature. Cook has said that her garden is a continual source of renewal for her. In fact, Ferni Fronds Trip and Boophone Twin re-envision aspects of her early work with images of current plant fibers from her garden.

Cook’s practice explores the sensuality of the woven image and often, the emotional connections to memories of touch and cloth. Long recognized as an innovator, Cook’s work has been featured in dozens of group and solo exhibitions worldwide, and we’re honored that bgas’ are among them.

Heidrun Schimmel
Heidrun Schimmel‘s 30hsc Was du Weiß auf Schwarz Besitzt (text/textile/texture)
cotton and silk 47.5” x 49.5” each, 2009. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Last, but certainly not least, we featured the work of German artist, Heidrun Schimmel. Schimmel consistently impresses us with her detailed, hand-stitched artwork. Her ideas often stem from the soft, unstable and flexible qualities of the textile materials she works with.

When creating, Schimmel has stated that she aims to illustrate the connections between thread and time and thread and humanity, as they are interwoven into human existence.

Time and time again, we are amazed by the brilliant artists we have the opportunity to work with. We are excited for all that’s to come throughout the year of 2023. Keep following along to see what we have in store along the way!