Exploring Norwegian basket making traditions (Eng)

Willow is a commonly used material in basket making, but in Norway we have our own traditions for basket making and the materials used. Hege Wiken from Hardanger on the west coast of Norway wanted to explore these traditions. Together with Samson Øvstebø she has made 13 editions of the traditional Norwegian split willow basket, “vedmeis”, a basket much used in the Hedmark region.

Text and images: Berit Solhaug / Norsk Husflid. Translated by Louisa Bond.  

Hege Wiken and Samson Øvstebø are at the Nordic Hunting and Fishing Days in Elverum to demonstrate how the split willow basket, “vedmeis”, is made. The division of labour is clear: Samson splits the materials and Hege does the basket weaving. They started working together last year, when they first attempted to reconstruct a split willow basket based on an old example Samson had saved from the rubbish dump. With that experience under their belt they wanted to take it further.  

In the Hedmark region it was the now deceased Arne Jensen, who was best known for split willow baket making. Hege explains that the Norwegian Crafts Institute in Lillehammer had a project documenting the production of split willow basket making in the early 1990s, which included material with Arne Jensen. These film clips and images were useful when Hege and Samson startet their own project reconstructing split willow baskets and giving new life to this forgotten craft. Their project title: “Splitter pin(n)e”, is a word play referring literally to splitting wood and the phrase and popular song lyric meaning “going crazy”. 

 

Requires practice 

The title for their project is not chosen without reason. How the materials are distributed is in fact crucial for the end result, and Arne Jensen did not leave any clear instructions here. This is knowledge that can only be acquired through practice. Hege explains that splitting wood is a common technique in Norwegian basket making traditions.  

– The skill of splitting materials for basket making is in danger of being lost. There are few now who can pass on the knowledge about the right types of materials, when to harvest them and how to distribute the materials when weaving. At the start of the project we did a lot of practice on how to prepare the materials. It is important to get them even and in the right thickness. A lot of the materials we gather from the woods are too thick for basket weaving and must be split before we can use them. Here, we have had a lot of trial and error. But now that I have got more experienced I can feel what is right with my hands. Now I am starting to get the shape and form right, Hege says. 

Hege is a professional basket weaver and she had her apprenticeship at Skovstuen Pil, a workshop focused on willow baskets. She explains that willow as a material for basket making is a tradition from other parts of Europe. In Norway we traditionally used materials found in the woods. 

– There is a marked difference between basket making workshops in larger towns and cities where they often worked with imported materials, and those located in the country. In the country they made baskets from local materials gathered from the woods and land around them. We see a lot of goat willow used in old baskets, but also hazel, and bird cherry and rowan for the rods that make up the basket’s handles, Hege explains. 

In addition to making baskets with these traditionally common types of wood, Hege has also made one out of juniper which has beautiful and distinct colouring. It is a west coast variation, she explains. On the west coast of Norway, where Hege lives, there is a lot juniper. The traditional split willow basket “vedmeis” was often made with a strap so that you could carry it over your shoulder and the bottom was woven, not in solid wood like the other baskets common on the west coast. 

Arne Jensen left instructions for split willow baskets in seven different sizes. The baskets were used for firewood, as of the name “vedmeis” which literally means “fire wood basket”, but also for hay. Basically, the basket is constructed round two bent rods that form the handles and feet of the basket. The split materials are then woven round these.  

 

Exhibition 

The baskets from the project have been exhibited at Hardanger Art Gallery and will also be exhibited at the Norwegian Forest Museum in Elverum in 2020.  

– I hope to keep learning and practicing the skill of making baskets from local materials. There is a  huge knowledge base to explore and countless possibiltles. And it has been great to work with such a skilled craftsman as Samson. We have worked together to find solutions whenever I have had challenges with the basket weaving, says Hege. She has also had contact with one of the very few who still practice the craft of split willow basket making. 

The project has received funding from the Arts Council Norway and Kvam municipality in Hardanger. 

 

 

This article was first published in Norwegian in Norsk Husflid no. 4, 2019. You can get a copy of the magazine in the webshop

Hege Wiken is a professional handicrafts member of The Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association. Go to her website to see more of her work. 

Through the campaign The Red List, The Norwegian Folk Art and Craft Association works to document and promote traditional craft techniques in danger of being lost. Split willow basket making is one of the endangered skills highlighted through this project. 

Abonnér på Norges største og eneste fagblad om husflid og håndverk!

Les mer

Pil er et mye brukt materiale for kurvmakere. Men i Norge har vi våre egne tradisjoner med fletting og emner. Hege Wiken fra Hardanger vil finne ut av disse tradisjonene. Sammen med kipemaker Samson Øvstebø har hun flettet seg gjennom 13 utgaver av tradisjonskurven vedmeis – som særlig har vært brukt i Hedmark. 

Willow is a commonly used material in basket making, but in Norway we have our own traditions for basket making and the materials used. Hege Wiken from Hardanger on the west coast of Norway wanted to explore these traditions. Together with Samson Øvstebø she has made 13 editions of the traditional Norwegian split willow basket, “vedmeis”, a basket much used in the Hedmark region.

Debatten om klima og miljø føres som om det er et valg mellom det ene eller det andre produkt som skal redde verden. Mindre kjøtt, mer resirkulert og nullutslippsbiler. Men viktigere enn hva er hvordan, og ikke minst, hvor mye.

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