Traditional basket making in West Virginia has always relied on materials that could be found growing in the local area. Various indigenous plants useful for basketry materials include white oak, hickory, maple, elm, and yellow poplar trees; honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, wisteria, and grapevines; willows, straw, cattails, and other plants that have both strength and flexibility. White oak, rived into long thin pieces called splits, is the most common basket material, used to make a variety of different styles, shapes, and sizes.
While traditional basket makers are now rare, several different basket types continue to be made on a limited basis. These include rib, split, and wicker baskets. Rib baskets are made from a framework of a handle and rim, inset with ribs, and woven with thin splits. Split baskets have no such frame, but are constructed almost entirely from thin flat splits and include round, square, and rectangular shapes. Wicker baskets may be formed from naturally growing round materials such as willow or vines, or made from white oak that has been shaped into long flexible rods.
Baskets are named for their shape, size, and household use. Rib baskets may be called egg, butterfly, fanny, melon, or potato baskets; split baskets are often named for standard measures, such as pint, quart, and gallon; and wicker baskets sometimes are named for what they are used for, such as sewing or corn baskets.
From the late 1960s to the present, a public interest in traditional folklife and craft has vitalized basketry. The Cedar Lakes Craft Center and the Augusta Heritage Center offer classes in basketry, while Tamarack, MountainMade.com, and other services market crafts, thus encouraging the continuation of basket making.
This Article was written by Rachel Nash Law
Last Revised on December 17, 2010
Irwin, John Rice. Baskets and Basket Makers in Southern Appalachia. Exton, PA: Schiffer, 1982.
Law, Rachel N. & Cynthia W. Taylor. Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Stephenson, Sue H. Basketry of the Appalachian Mountains. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.