‘Way We Worked’ series continues with art of basket weaving

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From left, Brenda Carter, Maxine Hall, Althea Church, Andrea Smith and Jonathan Smith watch as Jones shows them how to bend the bottom strips for the basket.

Visitors to the Union County Heritage Museum Saturday were able to learn the pioneer art of basket weaving, a class offered in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution exhibition “The Way We Worked.”

“One of the ways we worked is how we used to make things with our own hands,” museum director Jill Smith said.

Participants learned the skills necessary to make a willow or rattan basket and were able to complete their own baskets under the guidance of J.D. Jones.

Jones is a member of The Tombigbee Pioneer Group, which was organized to preserve the knowledge of the handcrafts and life styles of the early pioneer settlers in Mississippi. The group gives living history programs all over Northeast Mississippi at schools, museums and festivals.

Jones, a retired history teacher, has participated in the Union County museum’s Pioneer Days for 13 years, Smith said.

Jones said he specializes in baskets but also makes cane-bottom chairs, although he does the work for educational and historical purposes, not for sale.

The baskets he taught how to make Saturday were made from reed palm or rattan similar to what is used for furniture, saying it is easier to work with than the heavier woods. He uses oak for the basket handles and split ash for the ribs. Other than a tiny bit of glue holding the two pieces of the handle together, the basket weavings used no other fasteners or glue; the design with sea grass rope around the top was sufficient to hold the basket together.

The Tombigbee Pioneers do a Pioneer Day for the Natchez Trace Parkway Visitor Center in Tupelo on the fourth Saturday of each month from February through November. Some of the demonstrations include basket weaving, chair caning, spinning, weaving, quilting, sewing, leather working, mountain dulcimer playing, long hunters, and campfire cooking.

They stress they are not a craft guild and do not make items specifically for sale.

The Smithsonian Exhibit, which is visiting only a few select sites in the Southeast, will be here through Feb. 18. “We will keep our part of the exhibit and add to it,” Smith said. That exhibit will be up until March 20, when the annual student art exhibit opens.