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Elevator Chat: Kathleen Beauchesne, President & CEO, Center for Research in Basketry

Elevator Chat: Kathleen Beauchesne, President & CEO, Center for Research in Basketry

May 27, 2016Arts Across Maryland

Kathleen Beauchesne is the president of the Center for Research in Basketry, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating Maryland’s basket makers and its rich basketry traditions. Beauchesne will take part in the Sixth Annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival on June 4 at the Creative Alliance.

Her research objective is to reestablish Maryland basketry history and traditions as an art and craft.  She is an independent research fellow at the University of Baltimore

The Center’s research agenda seeks to look at broader issues facing the workplace and the arts including diversity, financial literacy, accessibility to health insurance and other benefits. As well as, the history of the industry and the use of basket making in mental hospitals, VA hospitals and organizations housing the developmentally disabled, for career development and other social issues affecting those working in the arts.

Since September 2012, Dr. Beauchesne has been conducting a series of interviews/meetings for a study on Maryland basketry, history, traditions for the purpose of research, education, and hands-on learning experiences. She is responsible for building a body of knowledge to support a series of events and symposia throughout Maryland in 2013 and 2014.

MSAC: What drew you to the art and tradition of basketry?

KB:  The first time I made a basket in September 1985, I was hooked. At the time, I was working a highly demanding job in the mental health industry, and I discovered that basket making was the place where I could be free to create, de-stress and concentrate on making art.

Making baskets gave me space in my mind to mull over ideas, think in new ways, and problem solve as I applied my hands to the staves and the weavers, my concentration to the basket and my heart to its construction.

One of the first baskets I ever noticed was sitting on the basements steps of my grandfather’s home, shortly after he passed away. I asked to keep it. I think that was the start of my interest in baskets. It appeared so beautifully proportioned and whoever made it was an excellent basket maker. After I started making baskets, I made a copy of my grandfather’s basket and it won first prize in the Maryland State Fair back in the late 1980s.

For me, my grandfather’s basket was more than just a treasured and utilitarian item on the basement steps. It was a priceless link to our family history. That can happen with the simplest basket handed down through the generations.

MSAC: How did the Center for Research in Basketry come about?

KB: As a Maryland basket maker and researcher I know many other areas of the United States where basket traditions are continued – North Carolina, for example has 23 guilds in the state.

These traditions are supported by diverse research, native and ethnic cultures/communities and museums dedicated solely to basketry. That is not the case here in Maryland. Of the many basket-making companies operating in Maryland in the 1800s, only one — Day Basket Factory in North East — remains in business.

Baskets made by families for generations are endangered. Now is the time to unearth this history, encourage cultural/community collaboration and build excitement about basket making, past and present. To further this goal, in 2009 I established the Center for Research in Basketry, based in Towson. The two key goals of my organization include working actively to conserve and preserve basket making as ancient craft and modern art, and to develop and explore the diversity and contributions of basket makers to the arts and culture of urban and rural communities.

MSAC: What has been the most enlightening or fascinating aspect of basketry, you have learned through your research?

KB: The Woven Traditions project seeks to weave together historical family and community links to basket making tradition across Maryland. In 2014, the project’s symposiums took place in seven diverse, traditional arts and cultural communities/organizations in our state: Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s; Baltimore American Indian Center in Baltimore; Frostburg State University and the Mountain City Arts Center in Frostburg; and the Day Basketry Factory in Northeast. 

In 2016, the symposiums, exhibits and events were at the Nabb Research Center of Salisbury University, the Captain Avery Museum in Shady Side and the last will be on tobacco baskets and hogsheads at Serenity Farm on June 11, 2016 in Benedict.

MSAC: With the knowledge you have obtained from your research, what are your aspirations for educating people about basketry in Maryland?

KB: Currently, I am working with the Maryland State Arts Council on these goals through a series of events and symposiums on Maryland basketry, called, Woven Traditions: Maryland Basket Making Communities and Culture, Past and Present. I also teach basket making at Charm City Baskets, Baltimore. The classes and events have been going on since 2014.

MSAC helped me launch this project using Maryland Traditions Program funding. The funding allowed me to travel throughout the state for three years in 2012-2016 to develop the symposium program.