Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Studio Visit: Basketmaker Ray Lagasse

[Find Ray Lagasse's baskets in Greenjeans' Online Shop!]

Yesterday, Jae and I traveled to the west of New Hampshire to visit basketmaker Ray Lagasse (pronounced with the "e" at the end, as they do in NH). It was our second trip to his home and studio, and as we did the first time, we got rather lost trying to find his tiny road in the tiny town of Lempster. The nice thing about getting lost in rural NH though, is that you often see lovely country while you go back looking for the turn you missed 7 miles ago. Last time, we had to stop for a moose crossing the road!

Eventually we did make it to Ray's, and we had a great visit. Jae took some photos that I've put into a slideshow (click here). In the slideshow, you'll see the tub in which Ray soaks the reed and bands of wood to make them maleable enough to bend, stacks of hardwood drying outside that will be used for the interior bottoms and lids, a piece of rough spalted maple and a piece of rough tiger maple, brand new baskets drying under clamps, a tumble of old baskets that aren't for sale, and the new Lagasse puppies who bounded about with verve during our visit.

In a previous entry, I wrote about Ray's gorgeous picnic basket with dark tiger maple lid. Click here to see more pictures of his finished baskets and to read details about their unique design and construction.

But here's the back-story. Ray Lagasse learned basket weaving 12 years ago in order to teach this traditional craft form to children at the Stoddard Elementary School in western New Hampshire. He made his first basket as part of a course at the Audubon Society where he was, he says, “the worst student in the class.” He kept at it, however, and over time refined his craft to create baskets that beautifully wed functionality and individual style.

Lagasse’s baskets draw from traditional techniques, but are unique in the way he incorporates a beautiful hardwood base inside the basket and runners on the bottom. Sometimes he uses fine hardwoods for the handles and lids as well. He scours small local mills for these specialty woods, which include bird’s-eye maple, spalted ash, dark tiger maple, and cherry. He has also used antique chestnut barn boards that still show their nail holes.

Rather than work with a mold, Lagasse free-weaves his baskets, and he uses an Indian cross-stitch, instead of staples or nails, to bind the rim. The baskets are finished with brass tacks and rivets, and harness leather in some designs like the Wine Basket and Lidded Basket. Finally, each basket is rubbed with non-toxic lemon-bean oil that enhances the subtleties of the wood and allows the baskets to be food-safe.

A juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, Lagasse won the Living with Craft first prize at the 2004 League Crafts Fair, and is currently exhibiting at the Thorne-Sagendorph Museum at Keene [NH] State College.

So come on in and check out the fresh new batch of baskets that we brought back with us! From the generous 14x14x14" wool gathering basket with leather handles to the oblong bread basket just the right size for a baguette (or a stash of CDs), Ray's baskets are gorgeous, durable, and practical. They are the utmost in art-you-can-use.

1 comment:

Mad said...

Love this post and the slide show. It inspires layering felt inside with fine, handmade porcelain for a picnic or storage. :)