Basking in the glory of a job well done
Geraldine Jones has been a basketmaker for more than a quarter of a century, she’s made baskets for film, theatre and the garden. myCornwall editor Mark Pugh spoke to Geraldine about how she came to work her creative magic with the willow.
Despite her workshop, come gallery, being hidden away up the stairs of an old net loft in Porthleven, Geraldine is not too hard to find. Her visitors appear from behind a curtain as we sit down to dicuss what it was that drew her to create with willow and wire. The visitors are friendly and unaware that we are in deep discussion. Geraldine, who is obviously a lot more relaxed about the intrusion than myself, takes the questions from her visitors in her stride. Me? I sit there waiting impatiently for the vistor to leave and for the opportunity to engage with this talented individual to reappear.
Geraldine came to Cornwall to do seasonal work cutting daffodils back in 1980 and family ended up staying in a caravan on Rosudgeon Common. “At the time there was a man on the common called Tom Aldrige, who made baskets of black berry stems and willow. I got hold of one,” said Geraldine. “I was so pleased with it and it was such a lovely thing I tried to make one myself. I couldn’t. But I carried on trying. I got hold of some bundles of willow and Tom ended up teaching me how to make baskets.”
Geraldine had previously studied at Manchester Art College, and before that she’d spent her first ten years living in Africa before heading with her parents to East Anglia. Her life was filled with travel before settling on the common. Eventully the family bought a house and the kids went to school locally. “We had moved many times before we came to Cornwall doing all kinds of seasonal work.” said Geraldine. “We didn’t want to move again. We ended up buying a house in Rosudgeon. I had a shed in the garden and started to make baskets there.
“I then met someone called Richard Moon. Richard was one of the last basket makers from Moon’s Basket Manufacturing at Long Rock.”
Many basket works closed down in the sixties because plastics became the choice for molded basket manufacture. “Richard Moon was one of the last to work at Moon’s,” explained Geraldine.
“He spotted one of my baskets hanging on a post at the end of the road and decided to come down to see me. He ended up teaching me how to make quick baskets which we made for agricultural use. Richard was a seventh generation basket maker”.
Looking around the workshop there is such a wide variety of basket based creations. From the small hand rattles Geraldine is making whilst we are sat talking (she made four), to a bodice shaped wearable piece. The place was an old net loft, used for repairing the fishing nets of Porthleven fishermen. “We’ve not done much to the place apart from put in a few windows,” said Geraldine. “Prior to this I worked in my garden shed. I started making here at the Salt Sellar in 1991.”
“My basket work has changed a lot over the years. I’ve started making structural works for events and festivals using the same techniques. I go to places like the Latitude Festival and build archways and site decorations. The organisers had seen photographs of my work. I went up one year and have been doing it ever since.”
Where does she get her materials from? “The willow comes from Somerset or I grow it myself. I have a field in Rosudgeon where I can grow fresh willow,” she explains. But it’s not just willow Geraldine works with. “I’ve been working using wire as well as willow. i’ve just had a 1,000 metres of 3mmm wire given to me by S3i Stainless Steel in Doncaster for the Basketry and Beyond Festival in Dartington. The intention is for me to create sculptures for the festival using the wire.”
The Basketry and Beyond Festival will feature a wearable basketry parade. “It shows you can create things a bit more extravagant,” explains Geraldine when I looked puzzled whilst trying to visualise the spectacle.
“I began creating works other than the traditional baskets with the help of the Arts Council who gave me a grant to create 200 lanterns to float in Porthleven Harbour at night during the Porthleven Festivals back in 2000. At a later festival I organised the creation of an arch across the harbour.”
“I also learned a lot from Witek Glinski, who, once he was retired from construction industry, made frame baskets from memory, recollecting those that used to be around in his childhood in Poland,” said Geraldine. “Sadly he has just died. I’m so glad that I was able to learn from him before these techniques disappeared.”
If readers get the opportunity to visit Geraldine at her workshop and studio they will find superb crafting creations on show. Perhaps, if they are lucky like me, they could be treated to a subconcious display of crafting skills that were also on show when Geraldine weaved a selection of basket creations whilst we chatted.
Geraldine Jones, World Wide Willow, Salt Cellar Workshops, Salt Cellar Hill, Porthleven, Cornwall TR13 9DP
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