A Tisket, a Tasket: The Many Ways to Use a Traditional Basket

Explore how basket came to the prominent state, where they originated from, and what makes certain baskets better than others.

| March/April 2002

  • Robin Taylor Daugherty has been collecting baskets for thirty years. These Native American baskets are an important part of her home’s decor.
  • This willow basket was made by Latvian artist Janucz Lapinus.
    Photography by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Daugherty uses this African basket daily in the kitchen. A Latvian peeled willow basket holds tomatoes. Daugherty made the tall cobra basket of black ash, Western red cedar bark, and willow.
  • A prolific basket weaver, Daugherty finds many uses for her baskets.
  • This woven receptacle for recyclables is so handsome it can be displayed in the kitchen.
  • A basket begins to take shape under Daugherty’s expert hands.

For our fifth wedding anniversary, my mother gave my husband and me a small round basket made by the Wounaan Indians in Panama. “It’s your wood anniversary,” she explained. “This is made of black palm.”

“Uh, thanks,” I said, lifting it from the box. Sure it was pretty, and I was mesmerized by the tight stair-step geometry of the brown and cream weave, but it looked too nice to be functional.

That night, I put the empty basket on the mantle beside our family pictures, shaking my head at my mom’s thoughtful but impractical gift. In the months that have followed, I have taken the basket down many times to hold it. I enjoy cupping its curved sides into my palms and fingering the intricately woven fibers. It took one woman one year to make this vessel, says the card that came with it. Each time I hold the basket, I think of that woman, I think of my mother, and I think of our fifth anniversary—guess that basket does hold a lot.

The fall and rise of the basket

Baskets used to be an integral part of homes all around the world. “They were used extensively in the kitchen and garden,” says Robin Taylor Daugherty, a nationally acclaimed basket weaver, instructor, and author of Splint Woven Basketry (Sterling Publications, 1999). “But baskets have been replaced by cardboard, wood, metal, paper, and plastic. The shopping bag used to be a shopping basket. The egg carton used to be an egg basket. The wastebasket is one kind of basket that has remained.” That is, at least in concept.

Though synthetic and disposable products have replaced many of the basket’s traditional uses, the natural basket still has a place in the modern home. “There is something of nature in these things,” says interior designer Marilyn Mastor of Mastor Design in Bellingham, Washington. “The more urbanized we become, the more we crave other ways to connect to the natural world.”

“So many of the materials we now use, such as laminate, are close to perfect,” she says. “Now we think of imperfections as almost healing—reminders that we can’t expect things to be perfect in an imperfect world. Natural fiber baskets lend a softening to the perfection.”

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