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Charlie Kennard an Arden Basket Weaver - from Planting, Gardening to Weaving

By Adelina, August, 11, 2018


Courtesy: Charlie Kennard

In the San Francisco Bay area, Charlie Kennard is well known for his talents in weaving baskets. Though he first learned his basket weaving technique from an American Indian Pomo lady twenty-nine years ago, later on he acquired and mastered basket weaving styles from other cultures including western America, Europe, and East Asia. Basketry is considered one of the earliest and most widespread crafts created by humans. Types and usages of the materials vary from culture to culture. The relation between techniques and functionality adopted by each culture is also highly correlated and distinguishable. However, Charlie seems to know the differences by heart. He also teaches different styles of basketry regularly at institutes and schools around the Bay Area. The Basketry Garden at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross might provide some clues as to why he is so skillful and knowledgeable when it comes to basketry making among different cultures.

Courtesy: Charlie Kennard

This half-acre Basketry Garden, also called “Redbud Gulch”, was created by Charlie over the years. By expanding an existing natural patch of native sedge (Carex barbarae), Charlie added willows (Salix spp.), elderberry (Sambucas spp.), redbud (Cercis occidentalis), native deer grass (Muhlenbergia), rush (Juncus) and other native plants historically used in making baskets. He works twice a week all year on this garden by propagating, trimming, watering the plants, and landscaping the environment. Then he takes twigs, roots, canes, and grasses from the garden for the construction of baskets when they are ready and available to be used.  He knows what types and parts of a specific plant that a particular culture would use. He also knows how long it would take for each plant to grow. He even makes his own dyes from plants. He is not only a basket weaver but also a botanist and dedicated gardener with deep knowledge in these plants and environment. Gradually, with effort and perseverance, Charlie has transformed this garden into a source of his basketry materials and inspiration.

Visiting his garden is like paying homage to a living museum which encapsulates the basket-making knowledge that human beings have learned and derived from their surrounding environments over thousands years. At the entrance of the garden there is a straw roofed hut and a wooden bench. Behind the entrance, along the hilly garden, some of Charlie’s other work can be seen. The collection of his basketry work varies greatly in terms of materials, shapes, styles, and techniques; a European-style of basket for carrying babies, a Japanese style of woven red screen with intriguing patterns in the middle; and a long stretch of a Romanian style of woven fence.  Not to mention, there are several skeps and beehive style baskets that originated in a number of European cultures used for collecting honey. His finished works are displayed beautifully and harmoniously with the natural plants and grasses in the garden; a reminiscence of how human beings used to express themselves and how they made use of their natural resources.

Courtesy: Charlie Kennard

Charlie, a humble, resourceful, and skillful basket weaver once said: “There is a lot to know about before one even starts weaving a basket!” His personal involvement in creating and growing the Basketry Garden and other similar places in the Bay Area has given him the first-hand knowledge in plants which provides a solid foundation that he needs when it come to basketry. On top of that, he has mastered various techniques required for weaving baskets from different cultures. Unbound by particular styles or forms of basketry, he has also ventured out to the world of modern art. Gradually, nature and basketry have become one in Charlie and this wholeness has made Charlie the true master of basket weaving. By teaching class after class in basket weaving around the Bay Area, Charlie has given many youngsters the chance to learn the earliest craft that mankind has produced. With great appreciation and respect, this proud and ancient cultural heritage is remembered and passed on through him.