My cousin Tracy's fine craft of pine needle basketry has grown from her innate talent combined with her deep connection to the place she has lived for over thirty years.
It is an adobe ranch house over 150 years old, at the entrance to a beautiful canyon. Tracy and her husband John run cattle here. They breed and train horses as well.
Along the top of the canyon grow the pinon pines that provide the needles and the pitch for her baskets. I took this picture during a horse ride she took me on. Those are the snow-covered Sangre de Christo mountains in the distance.
She gathers the needles...even storing them in her freezer to keep them fresh until she can use them. She scrapes the pitch carefully from old injuries on pinon trees. It collects in big goo balls. The injuries are usually because a porcupine has eaten the bark. Removing the excess pitch does not affect the health of the tree. The pitch has been used forever--first by Native Americans to preserve their baskets and as a finish on pottery. The Spanish settlers boiled it into a varnish that they used on wood. The pitch is melted and mixed with beeswax that she gets locally, and which smells like honey it is so rich. She brushes this liquid on the finished baskets, which are "baked" in a very low temperature oven.
They smell heavenly....for years.
She stores her baskets in a collection of old Victorian trunks. When collectors come to purchase one, they have the delight of unpacking and discovering them.
Let's do the same!
That beadwork she does along the rims is so great.
She loves to incorporate "found objects" in the lids as well.
She uses the pine needle "heads" to create patterns.
Tracy has always been an illustrator, and this horse is definitely her style.
(And why did she take that Two Needle Bead Applique class with me if she could already do work like this? She was kindly humoring me...)
In the pine needle basket world, the teacup is a form that all practitioners do their "take" on. It's a neat convention. The only comparable thing I can think of in the quilt world is how one might interpret the "Tree of Life". Everyone's is different but they are all Trees of Life, and they showcase where people are at in their quiltmaking. (I'd like to do one myself.)
Those are porcupine quills around the rims of the cup and saucer, and yes, she gathers those too.
Tracy gets plenty experimental with her work as well. The following two baskets show again how closely she is attuned to the elements in her environment.
This is paper from a paper wasp's nest, applied when the pitch was still wet. I love this.
But the last one is my all time favorite...
John had shot a rattle snake...Tracy skinned it and applied the fresh skin to the outside of one of her baskets. It "shrank to fit" and is one of the coolest things I've ever seen. If it didn't already live in Italy, I would have traded her a quilt for it. A BIG quilt!
Tracy and John were such wonderful hosts to me....it was so good to see them, and I can't wait to go back to the ranch. What fine people......