Sunday, September 22, 2013

The African Basket: the value of craftsmanship

A gift for my wife from a daughter, the woven basket is used for all sorts of carrying operations and each time I see it I feel warmed and satisfied: it is such a beautiful thing, woven with skill by someone I will never know personally but whose skill I admire just the same.

It is not just pretty in the conventional sense, but is sturdily made and will be with us for the rest of our lives, - a faithful companion, you might say, til death do us part. Someone has built it carefully within a long tradition of basket making and with a care for materials and colour combinations that goes beyond the merely practical. It is interesting how an inanimate object can be, will be, invested with so much meaning, so much of our identity.

We see these baskets for sale in our local markets and stores, and they are not expensive. When one calculates the original purchase price, the shipping costs and resale markups, the maker must have received a pittance, and yet she still made it with care and pride, really put herself into it, independently it seems from any consideration of the purchase price.

Could this really be thought of as art, that elusive quality that never lacks for definitions, definitions that always seem to fall short and change with every definer? For me it is simply excellent craft; it does not aim to talk about anything more exalted than form and function, no matter how much I appreciate it. Its just a beautiful example of how powerful craftsmanship can be.

What is really being show here is how seldom we see it in our mass production machine-made world of plastic throw away items. This African basket rests comfortably on the floor and is a valued part of our surroundings. Whoever you are, you maker, I feel I do know you after-all: strong, smart, dependable and very beautiful!

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