The Chatham Arts Council is investing in artists through our Meet This Artist series, introducing you to 12 Chatham County artists each year in a big way. The fine folks at Hobbs Architects in downtown Pittsboro are powering our Meet This Artist series this year. Architecture is art, and the Hobbs crew values art in our community. So, take a look. Meet your very inspiring neighbors. Meet Eva Green, creator of Rabbit Patch Baskets.
In this meditative interview, we delve into the world of basket weaving with the talented Eva Green. She shares with us the therapeutic nature of her craft, letting her fingers–and her family history with the domestic arts–guide the process of creation. Eva, a member of the Chatham Artists Guild for over 20 years, is looking ahead to the upcoming Open Studio Tour, which takes place throughout Chatham County in the first two weekends of December.
Tell me a little bit about where you got started on your artistic journey.
I’ve done a little bit of everything: crochet, knitting, candlewicking. I was taught the art of basket weaving by my mother, Nadine Degraffenreaidt.
How old were you?
Around five. She was taught the art of basket weaving by her great-grandmother. They lived on a farm, so they had to make baskets to get their crops and things in. Nothing like what I make today, but that’s how I learned how to basket weave and those other traditional arts as well.
I found out that knitting was too slow for me. So from there I went to crochet, and then I did a little bit of candlewicking, which makes pretty bedspreads and things, but I found out that basket weaving is my true love.
Tell me a bit more about your family’s history with basket weaving?
I’m a fourth-generation basket weaver. They would go out into the woods and cut down a tree, let it cure, and do their own splints in different sizes. A lot of people still do that now, but I don’t. I go to the basket shops and pick up the supplies and things that I need.
You can do white oak and split those with your shave horse and just get them the size that you want and the width that you want. That’s very long and tedious work.
So white oak is pretty common to use?
Yes, it is, but it’s very expensive as well with all the curing and processing it takes to make those. So I use what we call the splint reeds in bamboo. It’s sturdy and strong, and the baskets last a long time.
Strength and utility are important qualities in a basket, to be sure, and what about aesthetic and design? What elevates basket weaving to an art form in your mind?
It’s whatever you have right there. Whatever your mind is on. Sometimes you don’t really have a design. You just weave and create as you go. You let your fingers do the talking and weave whatever comes to mind. It depends on how stressed you are, because to me, basket weaving is very therapeutic. It helps me with anything that’s going on in my life.
I know very little about basket weaving. How do you achieve the different colors?
I use nature. You can use walnut shells to make dye, or onion peels, or ginger roots. You can use flowers or beets. Anything that would make a nice stain is what I used to use.
I’ll bet beets make a lovely color.
Yes, they do. And it takes a lot of onion peels to get a nice yellow. But to appeal to the younger generation (they want everything to match their decor), I had to go to some commercial dyes.
Tell me a little bit about the upcoming Chatham Artists Guild Studio Tour. How long have you been a Guild member?
For a long time. About 20 years. I learned the art from my mom who wanted to be on the Studio Tour before she passed away. After she passed away, I thought, to honor her, I’ll try to do that. So I joined the Guild, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
With the Studio Tour, you meet all different kinds of people. They may not buy a basket then, but they’ll get a card, and they will come back and buy later or refer one of their friends. I’ve shown for the last five years down at Gretchen Niver’s place. She has an airplane hanger. It’s four of us that will get together and show our crafts there [Gretchen Niver–stained and fused glass, Jane Eckenrode–painting and sculpture, and Janice Rieves–mosaic and sculpture].That’s where I’ll be!
In addition to baskets, have you made heirloom pieces, like bassinets and such?
Yes. I have done a bassinet with Nantucket Lightship weaving. It’s done with a mold, and it uses rattan and very fine cane. I have made a basket with pine needles. It was not one of my favorites. I did a class on weaving with sweetgrass, a technique used around Charleston. There’s a lady that comes from South Carolina every year to the NCBA Convention, and she taught a class there. So, I took one of her classes, and it’s a whole different technique. It’s done with coiling as opposed to the weaving that I do. It gives the basket a very different texture.
What other wonderful things are going on in your life right now?
My grandchildren are always going on in my life. I have two grandsons that I’m always excited to see. One is nine years old, and the other one’s three. They keep me busy.
Do you think about passing your skills down to the next generation?
I used to teach before Covid, but I haven’t started back since then. As far as the next generation, they’re all into electronics. Nobody wants to sit down and make a basket unless they are getting a merit badge from a Boy Scout or Girl Scout club. Other than that, I haven’t found any young weavers. And that’s the problem we have at the North Carolina Basket Association. We are looking for young weavers to come in and learn the art of basket weaving because most of the people that are doing baskets now are older seniors.
It’s wisdom too important to lose.
Yes. It is a dying art. I know several people that I started out with, that taught me, who are no longer here. I wish that more young people would come in and take it up.
Once you get to doing a craft, you don’t really think of it as a craft. I always say it’s a hobby that got out of hand. You sit there and sometimes you talk to your basket to make sure that it’s going to go in the right direction. You give it your love. Each basket I have made just made me love it more.
Find out more about Eva Green and shop her baskets at Rabbit Patch Baskets.