Gribble weaves beauty in baskets Expert teaches craft to willing learners at Slayton House

July 23, 1998|By Becky S. Yoshitani | Becky S. Yoshitani,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Every corner in master basket maker Susan Gribble's house in Clary's Forest in Columbia is a study in woven grace and beauty.

A hatrack in the kitchen bristles with heart-shaped boxes interwoven with whimsical pink bands and delicate double-bottom egg baskets. They're next to a shelf crammed with colorful fruit and nut baskets.

Her favored work sites, the back porch (for summer) and a second-floor study (for winter), are stacked with rattan splints and works in progress, while a crab pot filled with dye simmers on the stove. Even the stairs boast a practical, two-tiered piece straddling two steps and filled with magazines.

Ancient craft

Yet one of 50-year-old Gribble's favorites is a lopsided, mud-brown, woven vessel, her first effort at the ancient craft. A rueful reminder of where she started, the off-balance egg basket also declares there's hope even for the most awkward beginner in her classes at Slayton House in Wilde Lake.

Gribble's foray into weaving began in Arizona when she and her husband, Dickson, who had a peripatetic job in the military, landed there in the mid-1970s. With a degree in art history from the University of North Carolina, Susan Gribble was drawn to Native American cloth weavers crafting near her home.

She eventually purchased a 3- by-4-foot freestanding loom. "I like loom weaving," she explains, "but it's very solitary."

The next move took the family to Germany, "a dream come true," she says. By chance, Gribble's neighbor taught basket weaving and soon she was hooked. Although her first project was a double-bottomed basket -- one she still has -- experience taught her not to teach anything so complicated to a beginner. She now sticks to jaunty little Williamsburg baskets that can be finished easily in a three-hour session.

It helps to have a portable passion. As military families are wont to do, the Gribbles have moved every three years or so, spanning the globe from Kansas to England to Arizona to Germany. Living in Howard County from 1989 to 1995, Gribble spent her days teaching reading to at-risk children and her evenings teaching basket making to adults.

When she originally proposed teaching classes at Slayton House, the staff never hesitated. She took up where she left off when she returned here in 1997.

Women are drawn to basket weaving, Gribble says. Students, from their early 20s to late 60s, relish the chance to socialize while creating something beautiful.

'Something to take home'

"In a couple of hours you can make something you can be proud of, something to take home and put fruit in," she says.

Not every student is a natural. There's a certain awkward point when strips of rattan are splayed everywhere and it's hard to imagine the whole piece returning to a compact, attractive state. Despite fistfuls of clothespins and an odd assortment of tools raided from hardware supplies, the interwoven bands tend to creep out of position.

Gribble hovers over each student in her small classes, poking here and adjusting there. Her everlasting patience, which serves her young daytime charges well, is treasured by adult students with three left thumbs.

Taking a class in basket making is an economic as well as practical way to get started. Basket-weaving materials are hard to come by locally; most rattan coils are sold by mail order in 60-foot lengths. Gribble charges $20 to $40 per class, materials included.

Gribble comes armed with tools for each student, and an odd assortment it is -- hedge clippers and garden shears for cutting the splints, odd-shaped awls for prodding strips back into place, and an endless supply of clothespins.

Although do-it-yourself kits can be ordered, it helps to have Gribble nearby, admonishing students to "stand up and look at it." She'll then demonstrate how to reshape the basket, molding stubborn strands back into position much as a potter does on a wheel.

Gribble prefers to focus on baskets with a practical purpose, although it's hard to imagine an airy Shaker basket with an elegant hexagon pattern being used for making cheese anymore. But it does work well for chips and pretzels.

This fall, Gribble returns to Slayton House each month with a different class project. On Sept. 14, she will make a "bow basket," a simple woven design with a bow flourish on the side. Future projects include a breadbasket (Oct. 20), magazine basket (Nov. 9) and wine basket (Dec. 10).

Many options

Gribble has many of her own projects as examples of how to personalize and adorn the finished work. Individual splints can be dyed before weaving, creating fanciful patterns in the finished piece, or the completed basket can be immersed in a vat of dye. Minuscule seasonal motifs can be painted or stenciled on the strips and there are myriad handle and rim variations to choose from.

Gribble is skilled enough to interpret and duplicate baskets found in catalogs and magazines. She also constantly experiments with new designs and materials, and plans to try new things with with natural dyes, and perhaps ash and oak splints.

Gribble has never seriously considered selling her work. One reason is she doesn't have that much on hand. "I have to admit, most of what I make, I give away as gifts," she says with a smile.

Registration begins Aug. 3 for basket-weaving classes at Slayton House, sponsored by the Wilde Lake Community Association. Information: 410-730-3987.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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