Pliable, fast growing and easy to find, honeysuckle vines serve as the basket-material-of-choice for many Cherokee artisans. Until the 20th
century, however, the plant wasn’t in heavy use. Instead, rivercane
and white oak
dominated the craft. Today, some of Cherokee’s finest basket makers are working with honeysuckle, weaving the vines over a framework of stiff white oak to create authentic, unique and collectible Native American art. In working with honeysuckle, these artisans are following in the footsteps of such master crafters as the late Nancy Conseen, designated as the 1981 N.C. Craftswoman of the Year, and the late Lucy George, who frequently used honeysuckle to make her baskets. One of the founding members of the 1946-formed Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual cooperative, George helped popularize the plants’ use in Cherokee basketry. Four of George’s baskets are in the permanent collection of the U.S. Department of Interior,
and her work, as well as other members’ baskets, can be found in private and public collections around the world.
Crafting the baskets
Making baskets starts with a walk in the woods. Artisans first must collect honeysuckle and white oak. The honeysuckle vines are soaked and boiled and the bark removed. The artisan dyes the vines, using hand-gathered native plants: walnut, for black; yellowroot, for yellow; butternut, for brown; blood root, for orange. The white oak, too, must be prepared, with the hardwood split and turned into splints that are also dyed.
Craft becomes art
Baskets were created to serve a purpose: as a tool, with sturdy functionality and durability. Baskets were for carrying, cooking and gathering. Sometimes, they were so tightly woven they could even tote water. While respectful of the historic use of baskets, many Cherokee basket makers today go well beyond the basics. They create work that honors their elders, but do so in a manner that moves the craft into the realm of highly collectible art.Various styles and sizes of honeysuckle baskets can be viewed and purchased at our Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual store located in the historic district of Cherokee, NC, near the entrance/exit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway.
View our gallery here for a few samples of what we have in our Cherokee store. Contact Qualla Arts and Crafts
if you are looking for a particular size or type of basket. We’ll be happy to help you find collectable, authentic Native American art.