Baskets

Basket weaver Sue Williams, of Morrison and 2019 Tennessee Folklife Heritage Award winner, helps keep the art of white oak basket weaving alive.

 

There are only a handful basket weavers that make traditional white oak baskets . One is Morrison resident Sue Williams. Her baskets are currently on display at the Morrison Library, and her art has earned her a prized state award only granted each to a very select few artists, at Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award, the 2019 Folklife Heritage Award. 

Strangely enough, when Williams took her first basket weaving class in 1985 at the Warren County UT Extension, she never realized that her ancestors were Cannon County weaver themselves. 

Williams said that basket weaving was Cannon County’s primary income during the Great Depression. The land near Woodbury really didn’t work for major crop production, so the locals took to making and bartering baskets for what they couldn’t produce on their small farms.

These skilled craftsmen and women made functional baskets for a time before 5-gallon buckets and plastic tubs. But these folk’s dependents, for the most part, saw these skills quaint and sought better jobs.

And basket weaving was almost lost.

“Right now, to my knowledge there are two left, Williams said. “It is quite an art. It is almost a dead art.”

You can buy a basket at Walmart, says Williams, but it’s not white oak and it’s not going to have the artistic commitment  to quality that you’ll find in a hand woven basket. 

Her mentors Estel Youngblood, whose work resides at the Smithsonian Institute, and Gertie Youngblood, revived the art in the 1970s and 80s. By then baskets were art rather than function items. 

Baskets start with a live tree, singled out for not having lower limbs. The parts of the basket are made from the trunk, and only then can it be processed into the final elements of a basket.

When Williams teaches a class with all of the materials ready to go, it still takes over four days to weave a basket.

Williams has been recognized for her craft, she was one of only nine recipients in 2019 of the inaugural In These Mountains: Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowships, a program of South Arts designed to highlight and support exemplary traditional bearers from the Appalachian region of Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

Williams is amazed at winning the award. 

“There are so few given out,” she said. “I only know of one other person getting one. It’s a really, in my opinion, special award.”

Williams teaches basket weaving and presents at the annual Arts  Center of Cannon County’s White Oak  Craft Fair, held in September.

John has been with the Manchester Times since May 2011. He covers Lifestyles in addition to handling education reporting and general news assignments.John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. John is a 1994 graduate of Tullahoma High School, a graduate of Motlow State Community College and earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from Middle Tennessee State University. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

Staff Writer

John has won Tennessee Press Association awards for Best News Photo and placed in numerous other categories. He is a graduate of THS, Motlow and MTSU. He lives in Tullahoma, and enjoys the outdoors with his wife, Mitsy, and his 17-month-old, Sean.

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