Beyond baskets

Local artist Sue Yamins has taken basket weaving to a new level, creating exuberant, fanciful pieces that bring to mind the illustrations of Dr. Seuss or the colorful, organic forms of glass artist Dale Chihuly.

"I was like a lot of people who get into basket work and start by following traditional methods, shapes and motifs," said Yamins, who lives in a rural area between Phoenix and Medford. "My pieces have become more sculptural and less functional."

Yamins creates baskets that have dried gourd bases topped with coils of pine needles, waxed linen, raffia, artificial sinew, silk or wool.

She burns design outlines into each gourd, then colors in the often intricate designs with dyes.

Then the coiling starts, with Yamins building up layer upon layer of basketry.

Some of her pieces are fairly simple, such as one with a muted green gourd base topped with two coiled tubes done in natural straw colors.

In others, Yamins uses vibrant color combinations, such as sunflower yellow and brilliant orange, or sky blue with rose.

The coiled basketry often has waves and curls, echoing designs carved in the gourd bases.

Yamins' innovative basketry will be on display at Hanson Howard Gallery in Ashland from Jan. 4 though Jan. 30 as part of a group show.

A reception at the gallery is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 4, during Ashland's First Friday Art Walk. The gallery is located at 89 Oak St., near Standing Stone Brewing Co.

For Yamins, coiled basketry combines many of her personal and professional passions.

She was the greenhouse manager at the University of Chicago for 25 years. Also an avid gardener, she learned to grow gourds and gained an appreciation for their lovely shapes and durability.

After retiring and moving to the Rogue Valley in 1998, Yamins encountered long-needled Ponderosa pines growing throughout the area.

She took a Rogue Community College class on pine needle basketry.

"I got hooked," Yamins recalled.

A few years later, she began combining dried gourds with basketry.

Now each fall finds Yamins prowling parks, cemeteries and other settings for fallen pine needles.

"I gather them during the time of natural needle drop, which is between September and October. I gather pine needles for the whole year and store them," she said.

Rather than grabbing whole handfuls, she picks out each needle one by one, looking for the longest, most flexible needles.

Yamins said it is gratifying to see baskets recognized as legitimate works of art.

"A lot of people consider basketry to be a craft. It has joined the art world," she said. "People have begun to appreciate the work and skill and knowledge that go into it — and also the innovation."

Yamins will introduce beginners to the intriguing art of pine needle basketry during a day-long class on March 2 at North Mountain Park in Ashland. The cost is $40 and includes materials.

For more information or to register, access the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department's winter and spring recreation guide at

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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