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Woodfords basketmaker learned from the best

Karen Dustman

Paula Pennington and the material she uses to weave her baskets.

Artists are a different breed. True writers just write, whether anyone reads their words or not. And Paula Pennington makes baskets – beautiful ones.

No, they’re not for sale, although upscale shops would die for them. This Woodfords resident only makes baskets for friends and family. She makes them to use. And she makes them because – well, basketmakers make baskets.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 or 25 years,” Paula confesses. “Baskets have always fascinated me.”

That fascination first began when Paula met Elaine Christensen, a native Washoe basketmaker.

“She was extremely skilled, and willing to teach anybody who showed an interest,” said Paula. “So a friend and I began learning from Elaine and from Goldie Bryant.” But when those two special teachers passed away, Paula put aside her basket-making for several years. “We lost our teachers, lost the impetus,” she said.

After retirement, Paula reconnected with her love of baskets through the Great Basin Basketmakers in Reno. The group hires well-known basketmakers from around the country to teach workshops, and also offers classes by local members.

“You get to learn new techniques or styles,” Paula explains. “I’ve always found that if you go to a group, someone will have one good tip that’s not in a book. It can make a big difference; you say, ‘Oh, that’s the trick I needed on my last five baskets.’”

Paula has experimented with materials for her baskets ranging from traditional pine needle or willow to purchased reed and even grape or clematis vines. Lately, she has been working on woven creations featuring gourds and deer antlers.

Since basketmaking is a messy operation, Paula corrals her working materials in an upstairs loft. In wintertime, she sometimes spreads out in a downstairs sunroom with a tiled floor, making clean-up a snap.

What gets her going on a new project? Having a purpose for the basket, she says. Paula’s baskets are on display throughout her home, both as ornamental objects and as practical containers holding mail and other items.

There can be a risk to making such beautiful things. When Paula’s sister asked for a fruit basket recently, Paula found herself making three. “The first two she said were too pretty to cover up with fruit, so she hung them on the wall instead.”

But for Paula, it’s a combination of passion and purpose. “It’s just fun,” she smiles. “And after all, isn’t that what life’s about. Doing what you love to do.”

For more details about the Great Basin Basketmakers group, including information on basketmaking classes, go to http://www.greatbasinbasketmakers.org.