Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tracy's Pine Needle Baskets

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 was so good to see them, and I can't wait to go back to the ranch. What fine people......


Kay said...

What beauties! Thank you, Allie.

Raspberry said...

These are so fun! Thanks for sharing. I bet it's such a treat to come and look at them and inspect her handiwork.

Jean said...

WOW! To say the least! What a talent! Seeing her wonderful work takes me back to Tacoma, Wash. and the museum there I went to as a kid. Lots of Native American baskets etc... just beautiful.
I can see why you would have traded her!
Looks like you had a wonderful time.

crafty diane said...

Tracy's baskets are wonderful! When I was in the 5th grade (many moons ago!) we made a mat out of pine straw and I loved working with it. I have often thought over the years I should try it again sometime. I don't know if I could ever make anything as beautiful as these baskets!
Have a Blessed Day,

verobirdie said...

I have a phoby for snakes, so I leave you the last one.
This apart, those baskets are beautiful. I'd never heard of this technique. And the landscapes are amazing.

Deb Hardman said...

The baskets are spectacular! I can appreciate the work that goes into them. I have made 6 or 7 Pine needle baskets (all smaller than 8 inches), & they are a lot of work! Mine weren't nearly as beautiful as Tracy's!

Debra Dixon said...

It's so interesting how ones environment shapes ones work. I believe you and Tracy have that in common.

such excellent baskets!

Barbara C said...

What beautiful work. I can see that talent runs in your family. Thanks for sharing these treasures.

Nellie's Needles said...

Fabulous! Thank you for sharing Tracy's talent and abode with us.

JoWynn Johns said...

Beautiful place to be. Beautiful people to be with. Beautiful craftsmanship. The baskets are magnificent.

I'm reminded of a basketry sculptor I knew of around 1990, who created the most intriguing and appealing sculptures. Wish I could think of his name. He was well-known at the time.

What a pleasant holiday for you! Thanks for sharing it with us.

Patricia said...

What beautiful, intricate work. These baskets are true collector's items. You must have had a wonderful visit,
Patricia Rose-A Potpourri of Fabric, Fragrance and Findings

Summerset said...

Very cool! What a fun trip.

Susan Elliott said...

i have always admired pine needle baskets but I have never seen any as artistically wrought as these. Tracy lives in a beautiful place and I could see, smell and feel the spirit of her work and her home through your thought-filled post. Oh, that tea cup basket is my absolute fave. And I love the beading and the found objects. You must have had a ball!

Unknown said...

Gorgeous! Makes me want to go there and dig through those trunks to find the one that belongs to me!

Thanks for sharing!

Marie Alton said...

Allie ... so talent runs big in your family! Awesome baskets! Wonderful natural art!


Hello Allie, Thanks for sharing your visit with your cousin. Lovely landscape and your cousin is a true artist. Love all the baskets. Hugs judy

Anonymous said...

Your cousins adobe compound and landscape around it are so beautiful. You come from the most amazingly talented family. The baskets made with natural materials are exquisite and I so appreciate being able to enjoy the photos of them.
Granny Fran

twlack said...

Tracy might enjoy working with these: