BRANTFORD — On Saturday, August 3, participants in a basket making workshop held at the Woodland Cultural Centre (WCC) to craft baskets using black ash splints.
The first class was conducted several years ago by Tyendinaga basket weaver Carol Anne Maracle, who returned again last year to teach again for the third time.
The baskets made were traditionally used for rinsing the hardwood ash from white corn in the lying process. The baskets are made from strips of wood from the black ash tree which are crewed through a process of splitting the wood.
But the decline of black ash that can be noted by many wood goers which is in thanks to a devastating infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer that claimed millions of the trees in the dish with one spoon territory.
Since 2004 large spread quarantine for infected forests have been part of an ongoing effort by the Canada Food Inspection Agency to protect the ash trees which remain.
Maracle encouraged people during her first course at WCC to look through local nurseries for black ash seedlings and plant them as part of a reforestation effort in Southern Ontario.
“They are the most versatile wood. They grow in the water, so the actual tree loves the water. If you take one down, put one back.”
Last year participants were required to bring their own jackknife, measuring tape, scissors and of course, lunch to sit outside in the nice weather to begin their baskets, which is a dying art as explained by Maracle.
“Like our community in Tyendinaga there were no longer any basket makers. That was my incentive to travel and learn from the basket makers that were still here. I enjoyed that time immensely. I heard and shared so many stories with the elders as we were making our baskets,” she said, including that being a teacher has also opened up many friendships for her.
Even within her family, Maracle described the dynamic between her and her daughter as one of working together; Maracle enjoys making large baskets and her daughter making small baskets from the “scraps.”
But in regards to the actual process making of the baskets, Maracle uses what she jokingly calls a “thigh master,” which uses the pressure of her legs to hold the water-soaked splints in place as she coaxes the wood to split into thinner pieces.
“There’s various ways of spitting the splint,” she said. “When [the black ash] comes as a tree, it is eight to 10 feet long and still has the bark on it. What we do is we clean the bark off of the tree, then we take the back of the axe and pound it on the log of the tree and pieces of the wood peel up. Then we cut them to the size that we need for the baskets,” she said.
This process tends to take Maracle only a week or two to complete a full size pack basket, as her 15 years of experience serves her well. But, by doing most of the prep work, she can enable a class to finish a basket in only two days.
A class of 15 usually fills the back lawn of the WCC to enjoy a weekend of tough but rewarding basketry.