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IN THE PITT RIVERS MUSEUM

The Pitt Rivers Museum

Joanna Gilmour
Contemporary Basketmaker

The Pitt Rivers Museum must take a large share of the responsibility for my becoming a basketmaker. The exciting exhibition: Meaning and Form in Native American Basketry in 1992 opened my eyes to the craft, and a workshop in cane baskets at the museum, and tutored by Polly Pollock, set my hands and mind in action. It was, I suppose, a physical 'turn-on'. Prior to this, baskets had held no special excitement for me, although a childhood spent in Barbados has given me a natural fascination and inclination towards other cultures.

The Museum had always been on our family's itinerary of occasional venues to visit, but after my 'conversion', it became a frequent and regular stamping ground, and often a primary source of inspiration. Later, as a student on the City & Guilds Creative Basketmaking course, at London Guildhall University, I remember spending what seemed like hours deliberating over a twined tannaku pattern on a ceremonial skirt, in the Maori garment case, and also trying to deconstruct and reconstruct in my head and notebook, a particularly complex coiling technique on a basket. And another time, how on earth did you turn four corners to make a tetrahedron, like those that I had observed on the African ration basket (Fig. 1)? The delight of discovering that one of the palm leaf techniques I had been developing, was there in miniature, in the guise of a sore-toe protector (Fig. 2)!

Ration basket, PRM 1936.16.36
Fig. 1: Ration basket
PRM 1936.16.36
Sore toe protector, PRM 1928.69.1143
Fig. 2: Sore toe protector
PRM 1928.69.1143
Rat trap, PRM 1907.21.5
Fig. 3: Rat trap
PRM 1907.21.5
More recent research has resulted in finding ways of attaching 'feet' to tall baskets, and the inspiration for a fun basket, based on the rat trap from the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the top floor (Fig. 3). Helping to 'catalogue' baskets for the new leaflet and database has brought home to me how many pieces I knew nothing about, and how much untapped material there is still to draw on. A point that makes the museum one of the most important resources for today's students of basketmaking. How wonderful that it is 'just down the road'.
Some work by Joanna Gilmour:
Basket tetrahedron; Maker: Joanna Gilmour Pin wheel basket; Maker: Joanna Gilmour Rat traps; Maker: Joanna Gilmour
Basket tetrahedron Pin wheel basket Rat traps
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Current Impression: 28-sep-2005