Lancaster County Basketry
Although basketry is still considered an art form in rural Pennsylvania Dutch country, the fine detail and imagination of the best work has increasingly been replaced by cheap imitations.
There are several reasons for this. First of all, baskets are not used as frequently in contemporary society as they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, there are a number of containers which are far more practical, cheaper and convenient than baskets.
Secondly, there is a large tourist trade in Lancaster County. This tourist market is often not very discriminating and often lacks the knowledge to distinguish high-quality baskets from cheaper imitations.
Thirdly, as the years go by the materials required for fine baskets become scarcer and more expensive.
As a result there are less quality basket makers remaining in Lancaster County than there were in earlier decades. Unfortunately, these craftsmen had to resort to other means to earn a living.
Rye Straw Basketry
There are different types of old-style baskets made in Lancaster County. The first are the straw baskets. Straw baskets tended to be used mainly for indoor use.
The most common of the straw baskets is the round bread basket. The baskets were made from continuous 1/2-inch thick coils of straw which were interlocked with preceding layers of coil by means of pliable oak thongs. The straw was usually made of rye because it tended to be of the ideal length.
One off the ways to spot a quality basket is to carefully observe the state of the straw. Ideally, the straw should be smooth and slippery without any broken pieces. Cheaper, imitative baskets utilize preservatives such as shellac or varnish.
Usually, the typical straw bread basket is round-shaped with a diameter of about 10-12 inches. Sometimes the baskets have a handle to suspend the basket on a peg. On occasion the basket were oval shaped and sometimes the baskets cam with a straw covering.
For collectors, the shape or swell of the basket is a major point of desirability. Since baskets are often used as decor, a skillfully curved basket makes for an interesting piece. For instance, the "Mennonite Basket" is an example of a basket that is known for its graceful curvature. This variety of basket has been historically very popular in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
Another type of basket that can be found in Lancaster County is known as the "Splint Basket." These baskets are usually of white oak. although the splint baskets are heavier than the straw baskets, they can be used outdoors as well as indoors. Further, they come in a greater variety of sizes and shapes than the straw baskets.
It takes artisans a long while to creates these oak baskets because they require the oak to be sliced into thin strips and then soaked in liquid before the wood becomes pliable enough for lacing.
Most desirable of the white oak basket baskets among collectors is that known as the "arshbacke korrup." These melon-shaped baskets tended to be smaller with diameters usually less than 10 inches. The baskets are divided by a thick bottom strip which continues to the top to form a handle.
Willow baskets were common up to the early part of the 20th century. They are still made today but the quality does not tend to be very good and they are pursed by collectors.
The most common type of willow baskets found in
are oval-shaped laundry baskets with a flat bottom.
Although not exactly the same as baskets, collectors may be interested in wicker covers which were common in Lancaster County up until the end of the 19th century. Usually made of wicker but sometimes of oak, these covers were used to protect the glass of flasks and bottles.
These covers were made by soaking the wicker or oak splints until soft and pliable. Then, the cover was fitted around the object. When the wicker dried, the cover fashioned firmly on the object.In general, the oak covers were considered to be more attractive with a tighter fit.
Chinee (spelled as "Chinee" and not "Chinese" ) baskets are purely decorative, filigree baskets. Although they are made and decorated in China rather than the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, they have become quite popular in the Lancaster County region.
These curios are extremely light-weighted baskets made of rice straw that come in a large variety of shapes and sizes. The appeal for the Chinee baskets lie in their attractive red, blue and green floral decorations. Furthermore, they are extremely strong and constructed with superior workmanship. Sometimes they can be found with lace ribbon woven in the upper edge of the basket.
If you liked learning about the art of basketry and would like to find out more about other unique types of Pennsylvania Dutch art that can be found in Lancaster County, please see the following pages:
If you're interested in learning more about Lancaster County's unique folk art during your visit, why not check out some of the best
Pennsylvania Dutch folk art Museums
where you and your family can experience firsthand this rich and complex and relatively unknown artistic culture.
Return to Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art
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