Basket-weaving, the punchline of many a college class registration joke, is getting plenty of respect at the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit in the exhibit “Interwoven: Contemporary Basketry,” currently on view in the museum’s upstairs galleries.

The exhibit, which includes work by 11 regional artists, will have visitors to the museum questioning what constitutes a basket and what materials can be used in their construction.

The motivation for the show came from the desire to create a show that would connect with this fall’s downstairs show, work by Oklahoma artist Brenda Kingery.

Ms. Kingery’s show features abstract paintings that draw from the artist’s own childhood and Chickasaw heritage. In addition to acknowledging her own personal story, Ms. Kingery studied with indigenous women weavers of Okinawa, Japan, and combines their struggle to preserve their traditional culture in her work.

“She is culturally deep and rich and her artwork presents that,” said Annie Dean, special projects consultant at the Cahoon. To complement the show Ms. Dean said she wanted a group show that would feature three-dimensional art, landing on the idea of fiber. “I reached out to the head of the Fiber Art Network who suggested basketry,” said Ms. Dean. That suggestion led her to the National Basketry Organization and one particularly local connection, Lynn Francis-Lunn, a graduate of Falmouth High School who now lives in Beverly.

In addition to Ms. Francis-Lunn, the show includes work by Pamela Becker, Jeanne Flanagan, Lissa Hunter, Jeannet Leendertse, Kari Lonning, Arlene McGonagle, Nathalie Miebach, Sui Park, Lois Russell and Elizabeth Whyte Schulze.

“All of these artists are at the top of their field; several of them are in major collections,” said Ms. Dean, adding that all the artists started out as traditional basket-makers, taking years to perfect that craft before branching out into their own interpretations of the genre.

Ms. Dean said she was looking for new work and sought to choose artists who had stories to tell either through their work or their process. “I wanted visitors to the museum to literally step into other people’s worlds. The stories get bigger as you walk through. These artists have rich lives and deep meaning behind everything they are doing.”

At the top of the stairs, visitors are greeted by “Dawn,” an oversized urn-shaped basket by Pamela Becker, which seems to defy gravity with its small base. Along with the basket is a fabric construction by Ms. Becker; both are in cool and calming grays, blues and greens with a hint of orange as the color might appear on the horizon. Further into the exhibit is a second work by Ms. Becker, the vibrant “Days End,” which radiates energy with warm reds and yellows. Inspired by Native American designs Ms. Becker describes the baskets as having a life of their own, “My goal is to always find the essence of my subject. They talk to me” she says in her wall text, “if I listen, then I won’t have to start over.”

“Social Distancing,” a new work by Lois Russell, was influenced by the pandemic. The large coil basket features intersecting lines of different colors, a difficult technique to execute. “For Lois, the pandemic meant that everything was dispersing,” said Ms. Dean. At the top of the basket, all the lines are together and as they go down across the body of the basket, they disperse and move farther and farther apart. Since baskets are created from the bottom up, the design had to be thought out and then executed in reverse.

Maine artist Lissa Hunter serves on the board of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and has work in the Smithsonian. After working for many years in traditional basketmaking she began exploring an interest in ceramics which she’s incorporated into an assortment of handmade spoons, a nod to the shared humanity in everyday objects. The spoons are fascinating, each one unique. Ms. Dean explained that the artist created 100 spoons for a show held last year. “She sold some of them and made more for another show,” she said. “We have 22 of them at the museum.” Ms. Hunter uses coil basketry techniques in many of them and works ceramics and even found objects into others.

Unlike the other artists in the show, Jeannet Leendertse has never shown her work before. The Maine artist, who is originally from the Netherlands, weaves seaweed into organically shaped baskets. “She works with rockweed,” said Ms. Dean. “No one else in the world that we have been able to find is doing this work. She is just hitting her stride with this form of basketry.”

Using a coil technique, Ms. Leendertse weaves the seaweed and uses waxed linen thread to stitch the woven pieces. Depending on whether she does the stitching on the inside or outside of the basket, some of the pieces are malleable, moving with almost an other-worldly quality. Ms. Leendertse does her weaving while the seaweed is still wet and doesn’t dye the pieces, which leaves visible the variations in color from one strand of seaweed to the next.

Artist Jeanne Flanagan works with shoelaces and other unusual materials in her basketry, weaving keys into the pieces that are on view at the Cahoon. “Her technique is interesting; in order to get her pieces to stand up she weaves them all the way up and then folds them over,” said Ms. Dean. Like Ms. Leendertse’s pieces, Ms. Flanagan’s baskets are biomorphic rather then symmetrical, they combine weaving with embroidery and sewing, with the end result looking like a intricate fishing net.

The next room contains works by several artists. Three large and colorful baskets are by Massachusetts artist Elizabeth Whyte Schulze. “Elizabeth is inspired by her travel,” said Ms. Dean, “she creates her baskets and then records the influences from her trips in designs on them.” Ms. Schulze’s baskets record the artist’s thoughts and influences in the manner of a travel log. In the case of the baskets on view at the Cahoon they were influenced by trips to both Morocco and Peru. Female figures at a market, women warriors, artisans making rugs and tiles, symbols, patterns and color variations cover the top third of one basket, the bottom shows the basket itself, made of pine needles and raffia. “Elizabeth is interested in petroglyphs and ancient symbols as well as Australian dot paintings,” said Ms. Dean, adding “her work has a huge storytelling aspect to it and what’s most amazing is that first she creates the basket and then she creates the whole other overlaid detailed story.”

Because they look the most like traditional baskets, Ms. Dean used work by Keri Lonning to “ground the show.” In addition to inventing a form called hairy weave, which uses short bits of reed to create a textured surface on her baskets, Ms. Lonning has recently become interested in creating baskets from the akebia vine, which is originally from Japan, China and Korea and is invasive here in the United States. On her website Ms. Lonning says she became interested in the vine when she literally tripped over it in the forest. Ms. Lonning, who lives in Connecticut, is also the author of “The Art of Basketry.”

Arlene McGonagle is a former Nantucket Lightship basket-maker who has taken her craft in an entirely new direction. After going back to school, her work evolved into a form she calls scripted baskets. Instead of a traditional round shape Ms. McGonagle’s baskets are angular and almost square. “She’s working with hardware wire that she shapes and then wraps with different vines,” explained Ms. Dean. Coming out of the top of one basket is a long strip of paper accordion folded with handwriting going across it both horizontally and vertically. “She’s using famous poets work: Yeats, Mary Oliver, Dickinson, and then she writes her own thoughts over the text; you actually can’t read it but the process for her is very deep,” said Ms. Dean. Having broken from making traditional lightship baskets to inventing her own form, Ms. Dean said that Ms. McGonagle’s story is perhaps the most remarkable. On her website Ms. McGonagle refers to her works as “basket sculpture.”

Also on view are some of Ms. McGonagle’s two-dimensional works, prints with collage and weaving elements.

Nathalie Miebach has given “Ted Talks” on her work, which uses scientific data to create artistic forms and music. Usually her works are based on data such as temperatures and barometric pressures from a specific weather event, for example, which Ms. Miebach then translates into art by weaving the collected data together. For her Cahoon piece, “The Blindness of Seeing Patterns,” Ms. Miebach has created an entirely new work which is more personal and takes up one entire wall in the museum. “It’s a story about what it was like for her, during the pandemic, to walk from her home to work,” said Ms. Dean. Ms. Miebach gravitates to basketry, explained Ms. Dean, “because it creates a grid in which she can display her information.”

Tiny dice, chairs and flowers all created from woven components hang or extrude from the wall. Larger woven pieces in oval and hexagonal and prismatic shapes represent Massachusetts pandemic data along with temperature and weather from earlier in the year. Each piece in the work, whether it’s a concrete form or an abstraction, has meaning. The dice are a metaphor for how people are gambling with the risks associated with the pandemic. In her wall text, she explains that “the brown and blue hexagon translate Covid-19 deaths in Massachusetts in May and June of 2021.”

New York City artist Sui Park, whose work with cable ties can be seen on the museum grounds and in the atrium and gift shop area, has three baskets in the show created from monofilament (fishing line). The ghostly white baskets, which curve inwards and outwards like a möbius strip, are mesmerizing in their complexity. “It’s extraordinary how she creates the interior of these vessels; we don’t know of anyone else who is making these kind of works out of monofilament,” said Ms. Dean. “I don’t know how she does it.”

The final artist in the show is Lynne Francis-Lunn whose personal connection to the Cape comes from growing up in Falmouth and being inspired as a student at Falmouth High School to work in weaving by art teacher Leslie Dill. In “Life Is Complicated,” a new work made for the show, Ms. Francis-Lunn has combined art with empathy to create something that is both beautifully crafted and from the heart.

The piece consists of seven tall woven vessels surrounding a larger vessel, all set on a circular woven platform. Each of the seven vessels is painted different colors. Their warp is bisected with natural strips which extend well beyond the rims of the vessels. On these strips are handwritten repeated sets of words, with each vessel representing a topic that the artist says “I have experienced or have witnessed loved ones struggling with.” One, for example, features employment options: teacher, librarian, nurse, engineer, farmer; another addresses the challenges of having a healthy relationship with food with words like salt, sugar, fat, msg and nutrition; still another highlights physical health with the words: cancer, diabetes, asthma and Alzheimer’s.

The large center vessel is interwoven with words of self-care: love, compassion, determination, learner, plan, kindness. The same positive messages are written on some of woven pieces that make up the circular platform. “Only through looking deeply into the hearts and minds, the vessels of our friends and family,” writes Ms. Francis-Lunn, “can we begin to understand the struggles they are experiencing.”

Books on basketry and several samples of baskets in progress and the materials the artists are working with are also on view for visitors to hold and examine.

Shows at the Cahoon often include video of the artists working at their craft. For this show, Ms. Dean decided to forgo that type of video. “All of these techniques take such a long time,” said Ms. Dean. “They are slow-moving and tedious.” Rather than video, several of the artists will be at the museum to talk about their work and their influences as part of the museum’s Sundays at the Cahoon series, including Jeannet Leendertse on November 7, from 2 to 3 PM; Elizabeth Whyte Schulze on November 14, from 2 to 3 PM; and Arlene McGonagle on November 21, from 2 to 3 PM.

Lynne Francis-Lunn spoke at the museum earlier this month. A video of her talk can be seen on the museum’s website.

“Interwoven Contemporary Basketry” will be on view through December 19 as will the Brenda Kingery show, “Weaving Messages.”

Both exhibits can be seen this weekend at the Cahoon’s Fall Open House from 10 AM to 4 PM on Sunday, October 24.

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