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Basket-making class for special Shaker basket

For most of his life, Bill Visnovske considered himself an outdoorsman. He loved nature and the chance to explore it. In recent years, a rare form of cancer has taken away his ability to do the things outdoors he loved. So, unable to walk in the woods any longer, he became homebound. He sought a new pastime. A friend suggested basket-weaving to keep him busy. It was an inspired idea.

“Oh, I like to make them,” said Bill, at home in the window-filled room where he makes his baskets. “I like to give them away. You know, anybody can go and buy a basket, but not everybody has one made for them and given to them special.”

In the four years he’s been weaving the reeds in the baskets he makes, he’s become fascinated with the baskets made by Nathan Taylor. In the basket-making world, he’s known as “Nantucket Nate” because he primarily makes and sells the Nantucket style of basket in his New Hampshire basket shop. Bill liked his baskets so much, he called Nate. Then, he went to see him. And ever since, the two have become a kind of “basket buddies.”

“Oh, they talk all the time,” said Mary Lee, Bill’s wife, who is better known in the Parkland as the owner of Earth Mother Health Foods in Farmington. She thinks the friendship and the basket-making have been better medicine than anything the doctor could have ordered.

Bill says Nate rarely conducts classes in basket-making outside his own business, but he agreed to do one in St. Louis and he invited his Parkland friend to attend. But when the two found out the place where the class is scheduled had steps Bill could not navigate, Nate arranged to come to Farmington to teach him and up to nine others to make the unique Shaker baskets. Bill said that’s a lost art.

The class will be from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. May 31 and June 1 at Earth Mother Health Foods at 220 East Harrison in Farmington. The cost for the two-day class is $230. To sign up, call Earth Mother at 756-7852.

The Shakers were a unique community of faith who were known for their simple way of life. The baskets they made were for their own use and for sale.

The basket Farmington students will learn to make is the Shaker apple basket which is 14 and a half inches in diameter. Bill said Shaker baskets are unique because they’re made using molds.

Nate was allowed to go into the Shaker museums and copy the molds they used in order to make the baskets. He co-authored with Martha Wetherbee a book called, “Shaker Baskets.” In it, he says Shaker basket-making ended by 1900, but he has been able to study those that remain. The baskets are made primarily of black/brown ash because ash was the traditional basket tree in the areas of New England and New York where the Shakers lived.

While anyone can take the class, Mary Lee said experienced basket-makers are asked to bring their own tools, but there will be a limited number of tools for others to use.

Bill, a man of few words, said softly, “It’s a pretty big deal to me to have this class here.”

He hopes to be able to make a few molds for the smaller baskets himself and make them at home. He never sells a basket, though, preferring to give them away as special gifts. He writes a special note on the bottom of each one and includes a poem: “This basket cannot be bought for silver or gold. It is a gift from the heart that can never be sold.”

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