Caroline and Helene's Visit

Caroline Johansson and Helene Ekstrand visit Northumbria Basketry Group
Caroline and Helene visited our group in mid-September 2012 for a week-long series of basketry workshops and craft related activities. This was the second visit by Caroline who first visited the group in early 2011.
The first session on the Monday morning involved making coiled baskets from fine silver birch twigs. It was held in the Pole Barn at Lanternside Farm, Holystone and Gill Philipson kindly provided the raw materials and tools. Everyone was fascinated by the process of making the baskets from a very unusual raw material and the outcome was some very tactile baskets. The event has stimulated a number of members to make more of these charming products. In the afternoon Caroline and Helene visited Alnwick Castle to take part in a Harry Potter tour.
On the Tuesday Caroline joined members in the north of Northumberland to visit a number of sites. First there was a visit to Helen Cowans who is a textile artist. A tour of her workshop included a preview of her latest exhibition. The next visit was to Starscape LED and Fibreoptics to view some cutting edge lighting technology and to see the application of fibreoptics. The properties of fibreoptics allow it to be woven and carry light through woven willow. Then it was on to Springhall Farm near Seahouses for workshops with Anna Turnbull and Paula Constantine. Anna makes delicate felt work and Paula introduced the group to peg loom weaving.
On the Wednesday an early morning flight from Newcastle to Bristol enabled Caroline and a small group to visit the Somerset Levels. The morning was spent visiting P H Coate and Son which stimulated a number of new ideas for articles made from willow including the possibility of the group running a coffin-making workshop. In the afternoon Ellen Musgrove hosted a visit to Musgroves Willows. An extensive tour included the willow growing areas, sorting sheds and shop and a brief visit to a workshop making Bumble Bee Skeps, before Michael Musgrove gave us a demonstration of stripping boiled willow for buff. The return flight that evening was the last domestic flight to land at Newcastle airport!
Caroline visited members in the southern end of the groups region on the Thursday. The day started in Fowlers Yard, Durham, where creative workspaces have been developed from the former stables. Here the group met local artists and craftspeople in their workshops. They then visited the Crushed Chilli Gallery in Durham City before heading south to Low Burnhall Wood, the site of two willow sculptures created by Ruth Thompson and Anna Turnbull. Commissioned by the Woodland Trust they depict a coalminer and his wife. The final destination was Gibside, a National Trust property outside Gateshead, for a visit to the Garden Shed Project, a collaborative situated in and around Gibsides former stable block. Northumbria Basketry Group member Serena Hodgson is based here and she showed the group around the workshops before giving a hands-on lesson in lantern-making using willow and wet strength tissue paper.
On the Friday and Saturday Northumbria Basketry Group members and Caroline met at the usual Hepple venue for two days of learning from one another. Caroline had a long list of designs and techniques that she wanted to learn from us so she spent this time working on a variety of projects, including a small basket with a scallomed base and some Christmas decorations. She kindly took some time out from this work, however, to remind us of instructions for some designs she had taught us in Sweden last year. Liz Balfour joined us to teach rush work and give general help and advice. We were visited on the Friday by an Asian womens group from Newcastle who are learning basketry with Ruth Thompson. They brought some of their colourful work to display along with some traditional baskets from their home countries and a wonderful array of needlework. Their baskets demonstrated their love of bright colour and were embellished with beads and paint in green, yellow and gold. Everyone was intrigued by their chicken-sellers basket which would have been filled with live chickens and carried through the streets on the sellers head.
Anne Otley demonstrated proggy and hooky mats on the Friday evening and took Helene to Newcastle to a silver clay workshop on the Saturday. Helene shared her skills with others on the course. Anne showed Helene around the Mushroom Works and The Biscuit Factory. Helene especially enjoyed seeing contemporary artists working in plexiglass on the latter visit.
Overall this was a stimulating and rewarding week for all concerned and we are already enthusiastically planning for the next exchange visit which will be in Sweden in 2013.
Northumbria Basketry Group has a collaboration agreement with Caroline Johansson.
Paula Constantine, Sheila Walton and Alan Winlow

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