This month, we’re thrilled to share an interview with our Artist-in-Residence, basket weaver Dan Brockett! Using willow grown on his farm, Foggy Blossom, Dan creates baskets in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles that celebrate the natural beauty of the willow. Dan will be working in our Studios through March 2023, so be sure to stop by and say hello! And in the meantime, enjoy the interview below, where Dan discusses craft, his practice, and his inspiration.
It’s the act of transforming sticks into something beautiful that I truly treasure. It feels like giving meaning to something that may seem meaningless. The mundane becomes magical.
What is your artistic background?
In my twenties I started a screen printing company and also spent nearly a decade working on commercial photography jobs. At a certain point I needed a steadier situation so both pursuits were abandoned for a full-time position in sales. My inclination to be creative never went away, but it wasn’t until my wife signed us up for a pottery class that I began to find new avenues of artistic expression. I ultimately landed on willow basketry when we began cultivating perennial plants on our farm. I became fascinated by the craft and loved that I was able to raise my own materials.
What are your favorite materials to work with/types of items to make?
Currently my main focus is working with willow. I’ve dabbled with, and hope to explore further, other weavable materials that can either be cultivated or foraged. I’ve also been incorporating leather strapping, latches and embellishments that add finishing touches to my baskets and transforms them from vessels to functional/wearable pieces. My favorite types of baskets to make are ones that need to be used and will become a part of people’s lives and routines. I aim to create work that has a story and a connection to the natural world, to me as a maker, and can be repaired, replaced, recycled, and last a lifetime or longer.
From where do you draw your inspiration?
Since I’m in my own self-imposed apprentice phase I seek out every book, pattern, video and more that will expose me to new and different ways of creating. So a lot of inspiration comes from other more established weavers. I also draw inspiration from baskets that can perform a function, like a fishing creel or a foraging backpack, because I love envisioning someone actually using what I’m creating. Those thoughts bring the baskets to life in my hands.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process is very rigid, starting with the raw materials. I begin by reviewing each rod individually, counting out the exact quantities required for a project, and I keep meticulous records of every basket I create. Because I’m making pieces that have already been made, and have been made for generations, there’s not many places where my decisions come into play. There are elements like color and size that are up to me, but the lineage of basketry keeps me centered and desiring to honor it with precision. The times that I’ve made projects without a preconceived notion have been exciting and successful, but have not been my main focus to this point.
What is the most rewarding thing about your practice?
The most rewarding thing about my practice is the actual act of weaving and the feeling of the rods on my fingers. It’s all about the craft, which is satisfyingly tactile. After a basket’s done I just want to get it into someone’s hands so that they can have a relationship with it moving forward and I can get on with my next make. It’s the act of transforming sticks into something beautiful that I truly treasure. It feels like giving meaning to something that may seem meaningless. The mundane becomes magical.
And what challenges do you face as an artist?
Carpal tunnel and other physical ailments are an everyday concern, which become apparent with particular baskets that require more wrist and hand strength. I hope to do this for the rest of my life, so there’s a balancing act of making enough to satisfy my desire to weave while ensuring that I don’t injure myself and inhibit my ability to continue making in the future.
The other big challenge is having enough material since it takes several years of cultivating willow for basketry to get high quality rods. Purchasing from other growers is very cost prohibitive, and there’s very few of them producing.
Outside of your practice, do you do any other creative activities/what are your interests?
I enjoy foraging, fermentation and cultivating as many different types of plants as I can. Basically anything related to nature is where I express myself artistically. I also love spending time with my wife Betsy and our two wonderful dogs.
What role does the artist have in society?
I can’t speak on behalf of artists as I feel like more of a craftsperson, but someday I may make the transition or have a foot in both worlds. I greatly admire artist’s ability to inspire wonder and translate ideas and feelings into form, but as a craftsperson I feel like my role is to make something useful. Society would be lost without both.
What is art/craft to you?
Art/craft feels like a north star in my life. It’s an outlet, a direction, and a driving force. It’s what has given me the ability to connect with others and widen my world after a long period of feeling sheltered and creatively stuck. I’m hopeful that the continued pursuit of art/craft will only make my life better and more beautiful.
Tell us about your favorite artist or artists that inspires you.
I greatly admire my teachers Jo Campbell-Amsler of Willow Ridge and Jesica Clark of Willow Vale, who are both absolutely incredible weavers. From a distance I’ve learned so much from Eddie Glew of Blithfield Willowcrafts and Hanna Van Aelst who are both located in Europe and are masters of their craft.
The PBS show, Craft in America, is my current gateway to discovering artists and craftspeople of all kind. Seeing people at the peak of their career is so inspiring, as is the innovation, variety of mediums and what can be done with them.
Anything else you would like to add?
I would like to express so much gratitude to Contemporary Craft for featuring me and for the opportunity to be an artist-in-residence. Being part of this wonderful organization means so much to me.
We also have a workshop with Dan coming up on April 22, 2023. Join him to create your own flower basket using locally grown willow and traditional weaving techniques. Your finished piece will be functional and made to last a lifetime. Learn more and register here.