Basket Weaver Sharon Dugan
Basketry in two tones
Pound a log and split it apart. That is how Sharon Dugan of Sanbornton starts the process of basketry.
Her signature work is made with black ash found locally in wet areas. She says, “A good basket tree has always had its roots in water. It is at least eight inches in diameter and straight with no knots.”
A few years ago, when she learned that the Emerald Ash Borer was coming and killing trees, Dugan stockpiled what she could. The process is painstaking. Starting with a fresh or damp log, the bark and cambium layers are removed, and the log is beaten repeatedly to separate the early soft spring growth from the desired summer growth. “It’s like peeling the strings from celery when I pry the strips, or splints, off of the tree. And it took me 20 years to figure out how to slice those splints down to 1/64 of an inch wide,” she adds.
With the narrow splints sanded and dampened, Dugan bends them to her will: “I know how far I can push it after 30 years.” Influence can be seen in the use of ash and the classic cat head bottom shape traditionally used by the Shakers; like the Shakers, she uses tooling and molds.
Dugan’s latest work features ash splints that have been dyed black then sanded on one side. To create a pattern, she twists the splint to reverse the color. The finished look is almost like Ikat fabric with a soft-edged pattern.
After years of hard work, the honors have come. In 2011 Dugan was invited to Poland for an international basket competition. She won a first and second place in two divisions. Her work is also in the permanent collection at the Renwick Gallery, a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
This fall Dugan is exhibiting at Old Ways Days on Dave Emerson’s Farm in Canterbury, October 18 and 19.