Be the boss of your basket
Award winning basket weaver to demonstrate at Duncan’s original National Day of the Cowboy Celebration
After 35 years of teaching sign language to deaf students in the public school system, Pauline Asbury knew two things – one was she needed something to fulfill her time after retirement, and two, it had to be something she could be good at and was passionate about doing.
An invitation from her cousin to attend a basket weaving class at the Kingfisher Museum was just what she needed. That was in 1999. She made a Cherokee double-walled basket.
Asbury will be one of the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center’s featured demonstrators on its National Day of the Cowboy Celebration, Saturday, July 27. She will be doing basket weaving demonstrations and visiting with guests on the free admission day.
“The rest is history. I fell in love with basket weaving and started making and giving as gifts. One can only give friends so many baskets, so I started doing craft shows and built a small business so that when I retired I would have something to keep me busy. I watched too many teachers retire and having nothing to do, go back to substitute teach.”
Using her hands to teach deaf students all those years increased her dexterity, allowing her to quickly complete a task.
“Habasketry came about because I am a very fast weaver – having taught deaf children my fingers were use to moving. When I joined the Oklahoma Basket Weavers Guild there was a gentleman that had been weaving for years. When I finished my basket well before him, he made the comment, ‘It’s the quality not the quantity that counts.”
She didn’t let that comment bother her.
“A Yankee doesn’t get mad, we get even. I won Best in Show at the Oklahoma City State Fair and then the Tulsa State Fair and that’s when I decided that my maiden name is Hogan and married is Asbury so I could be Habasketry.”
Basket weaving can be traced back to the early Egyptians.
“No matter who you are or where you came from, your ancestors made baskets,” said Asbury. She has taken what many find to be a hobby and has woven it into a successful business.
Asbury said the idea of our ancestors using baskets is simple. “They had to have something to store and carry their stuff.” And that principle holds true today in 2019.
“That being said, any basket you buy that is made with natural materials has been hand woven somewhere. It’s just not cost effective to weave by machines with worm holes, growth rings, etc. They would spend more time threading the machine than the machine weaving.”
Asbury credits her mother for her interest in handcrafts. When she was about 10 years old, she recalls her mother discovered plaster craft.
“She started out making and teaching that craft while raising 12 children to adulthood (one having died in infancy) and helping my Dad run a farm and selling produce in the farm stand,” Asbury said. Her mother also dabbled in other crafts, including tole painting, from the basement in their home in New Hampshire.
“That is where the seed was planted for me. I tried several different activities including pottery but nothing scratched the itch completely.”
She’s learned quite a bit about the craft of weaving.
“There is no right or wrong way to weave, it’s whatever works for you. This is most definitely my thoughts as a former Special Education teacher. I will show students the way I do it, but if you can achieve the same results using a different approach, by all means go for it.”
Some might think basket weaving boring, but for those who really are passionate about the historic craft, humor happens.
“You are the boss of your basket. You tell it what you want, you show it, and then you repeat this as much as needed. It’s like a child you are constantly talking to him/her and showing him/her. My female students have heard me say “If the basket is being nice to you and weaving the way you want it is a SHE, if it is fighting you, it is a HE.”
Basket weaving is also therapeutic. “You concentrate on the weave and how the materials react in your hands. You forget about the rest of the world and recharge the batteries.”
Asbury has tried many patterns and created many patterns.
“There is not much that you can do to one of my baskets patterns that I haven’t already done. The year after I retired from public school teaching, I decided if there was ever going to be a year that was it and I made 365 different baskets. That didn’t count my duplicates.”
She was selling year-round at Saturday markets and in the summer also during the week. She estimates she created more than 500 baskets in that year.
“I learned so much about the differences in the reed and how it reacts in different situations.”
Asbury doesn’t mind using processed materials to create her baskets.
“I was raised on a farm and I don’t like being “chiggers bait.” I admire anyone that can go out and harvest their own materials. It’s just not for me. God gives us all different talents. Life would not go on if we all had the same talent. We would starve if everyone was a weaver.”
And she realizes not everyone loves baskets, admitting she’s given some people a basket as a gift. “They will not receive another.”
For those who do enjoy basket weaving or like to own handcrafted baskets, visit the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center on Duncan’s original National Day of the Cowboy Celebration, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 27, to meet Asbury. She will demonstrate and visit, and have baskets available to purchase. There is no admission charge to the museum on National Day of the Cowboy.
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