Atz Kilcher

From the blog

Bird Nest Basket

While visiting the Adirondacks with my wife three years ago, I started a basket. Instead of tucking the end of every root inside the basket, as is normal, so as not to have root ends sticking out and catching on things, I did it differently.

Below is a little video we made to show you in more detail what I’m talking about. A little multimedia story telling. Watch the video and then read on below if your interest has been piqued.

The only rabbit trail I will take you on while writing this record breaking short, concise, to the point, non-rabbit trail blog, (yeah Kilcher like that’s even possible), is this ever so brief rabbit trail to tell you that there will be none. Sorry. This is the creative me explaining to you how this basket came to be. This is the me being focused, being the instructor. For the spokes, or the warps (using weavers terms) of the basket, (of like the skeleton), I did it as I always do. But the weavers, or the weft, them what goes around and around I chose special roots. I chose roots that had many little hairy roots at the end, the very beginning of the root, or the end, depending on where you start from. It is those many little fine roots that begin the process of sending water up to the tree.

I then let those find feathery hairy ends stick out of the basket. The
were not sticking straight out of course, but rather all going in a circular direction. While they were still wet I encourage them to stay close to the basket using artificial means of encouragement.

My goal was to do something a little more wild and natural and bird nest like looking. I have done this before.

I did not finish this basket in the Adirondacks, I shipped it home in a box. It arrived dry, squashed and sad. And still unfinished. At this point the basket was maybe 3 inches high, and all the spokes were sticking straight up, as I had not yet done the final wrap or braiding or weaving around the top of the basket to finish it. It sat in this sad lopsided squashed unfinished form in my shop all these three years.

Three months ago, just before Christmas, I thought this unfinished basket might be taking an exciting journey with me. I was asked to be on my daughters CBS Christmas special which was going to be taped in Nashville. As well as singing, and yodeling of course, we were going to exchange some homemade homestead gifts, and possibly demonstrate to the viewing audience how to make a basket, or at least how to finish one I had already started.

So I put that sad dry basket into a bucket of water so it could get plump and happy. I also selected some special black willow roots to double up with the lighter colored pine spokes currently in the basket. This gives the final wrap a fatter and two colored look.

The producers decided there was not going to be time for a basketmaking demo, so that basket which was once sad and lopsided and dry, was now plump but still lopsided, and frozen in a bucket of ice. Perfectly preserved. Could’ve stayed that way for centuries.

Well with spring approaching, I decided to do some projects in my shop and started heating it again. The bucket of ice thawed out, and the somewhat tangy fermenting smell of my once dry, now plump, still lopsided basket began calling to me. One day I could stand it no longer.

I had told my wife I was just going out to check the fire. But I got side tracked down a rabbit trail. I pulled out the lopsided but plump happy basket and gave it back to its original shape. I pointed my short Black willow spokes and stuck them in next to the original pine spokes. Then I thought,” this bird nest like basket, needs a bird nest in it”. So I went to my drawers of many bird nests I’ve gathered over the years and found one just the right size. Actually it was a freckle too big so I had to take off a few layers of moss and twigs and straw which the bird had so carefully put into place. I was amazed at how the center of the nest was still perfectly round in the shape of the body of the builder.

My sister, who is quite the bird authority in the area, once watched a bird building a nest, Not more than 3 feet away, just outside her wilderness cabin window in an elder berry bush. Every time that bird brought some new material and placed it in the nest, Guess what it did? It’s spun around and around and around! That bird was forming and molding and building all at the same time. If you find a nest just after everybody left home, it will still have that perfectly round shape.

My challenges after finding a nest, is to find an object, such as a ball, which is just the right size, so that while I am squeezing and squishing to get that nest inside one of my baskets, it maintains its beautiful shape. I also store most of my nests this way. Never mind the fact that now the nest looks like it’s had a ball in it instead of a bird. Seriously, you could never tell the difference between my ball augmented preserved nest, and the real deal you find in the wilderness.

So I take this nest, put a ball in the middle, shave it down, and stick it into my basket. Then I do the wrap at the top. I peel the end of the pine warps to make them a whitish yellowish color. Laying next to the black of the willow roots which have not been peeled, it makes a beautiful contrast.

I came back to the house and before my wife could ask me what took me so long, she saw the basket in my hand and understood. I didn’t need to say a thing.

An artistic collaboration between the Adirondacks and Alaska, Between man and bird, between pines and willows. You gather, you reshape and assemble, but credit goes to nature.

Anyone can do this. Even if all you do is bring home some rocks you found on the beach, or a couple of cool looking driftwood sticks, and arrange them on your window sill. So go out there and find something to reshape or rearrange, leave it out there where you found it or bring it home. You are an artist. We all are. Then if you want and feel brave, take it a step farther, write and tell somebody what you did, tell them the process, how it felt. Now not only are you an artist, but also a writer. Simple. Like nature. If a bird can make a nest, I think you can make a little bit of art.


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