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Students at Shannondale made these colorful baskets out of dyed reed and rattan.
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Barbara Gibbs Ostmann
Eric Peterson weaves a basket with native materials,such as elm, hickory, and cedar barks, that he harvested.
By Barbara Gibbs Ostmann
If practice makes perfect, then it’s no wonder the baskets made by Eric Peterson and Barbara Sakowicz are so beautiful. They’ve been practicing for years.
Their basket-making journey began in the early 1980s. That’s when Eric started studying with Roger and Betty Curry, who were considered by many to be the keepers of the flame of traditional Ozark white oak basket-making.
“Betty said if I’d keep working at it, I’d learn. I hope I’m getting there,” jokes Eric.
He’s there, all right.
Barb got into baskets through Eric, whom she met in 1990. “I liked making baskets, but I liked the basket maker more,” she quips.
Together, they developed their expertise in making free-form or rib baskets as well as traditional white oak baskets.
Eric processes the barks needed for their native- materials baskets and collects the various vines and grasses. The trees and vines come from their property and that of friends.
Eric and Barb transitioned from students to teachers in the early 1990s when they were asked to take over basket-making classes at the Christianson Native Craft Workshop at Shannondale on Highway 19, between Salem and Eminence.
The class is taught alfresco with students weaving outside under shade trees and even foraging for some materials.
A recent series of private classes at their home was organized for women who work at White River Valley Electric Cooperative.
“Two ladies from White River attended Christianson Native Craft Workshop and then showed off their baskets at work,” says Melissa Cutbirth of Galena. “We all said, ‘Oooh, we want to do that.’ ”
So they set up classes with Barb and Eric and made a variety of reed and native-material baskets. For a recent class, they brought deer antlers to use as handles for the rib baskets.
Eric and Barb enjoy seeing the students’ creativity in their baskets. No two are ever alike.
A Renaissance Life
Basket-making isn’t the only thing Eric and Barb enjoy doing together. A Renaissance couple, their diverse interests range from gardening to ballroom dancing to beekeeping. Eric enjoys woodturning, throwing pots, and blacksmithing. Barb likes weaving, cooking, and home food preservation.
They are active in their church and a number of charitable organizations.
Both are Master Gardeners and enjoy heirloom gardening and seed collecting. Barb teaches flower-pressing classes through the Master Gardener program, and they both volunteer each year to plant the flower gardens at the Kids Across America Camp near Golden. About seven hundred urban youth from around the country attend the camp each week in the summer.
Eric also enjoyed teaching a staff member of Kanakuk Kamps in Branson how to harvest materials in the wild and use them to make baskets as part of the camp’s survival class series.
The campers created primitive but functional baskets.
“I’m supposed to be retired,” says Eric, who formerly manufactured brake and clutch parts for automotive and industrial purposes.
Barb’s background is in occupational health care, but when she moved to Taneyville, she couldn’t find work in that field. So she started a home-based business with Mary Kay Cosmetics as an independent beauty consultant. The flexibility of the job allows her to assist Eric in teaching basket weaving and gathering materials.
Their country home reflects their artistic natures, and their family and friends are the lucky beneficiaries of their largesse—from canned goods to floral bouquets to baskets.
Because, as Barb and Eric point out, it’s not just about weaving a basket. It’s about weaving friendships in the process.
Eric and Barb teach private classes by appointment in their home outside of Taneyville, near Branson. Classes include a homemade snack or light lunch. Class fees vary depending on types of materials used, size and complexity of baskets, and group size.
For information about scheduling a private basket-making class for your group or about purchasing baskets, contact Eric or Barb at email@example.com or 417-546-5588. They have a small supply of baskets on hand and can create customized baskets to order.
For more information about the Christianson Native Craft Workshop at Shannondale taught by Eric and Barb, visit www.christiansonnativecraft.org.
Eric assists most of Betty Curry’s classes, including biannual classes in June and November at St. Louis Basketry Supply in St. Louis, the annual Gibson-Curry Split Oak Basket Workshop in early April at Shannondale Community Center, and other classes from time to time. For information, contact Betty Curry at 417-732-1258.
Eric teaches a weekly reed basket class at Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge in Branson for guests of the lodge. For information, visit www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/sgfhb-marriotts-willow-ridge-lodge.