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The Material Culture of Basketry

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Practice, Skills and Embodied Knowledge 

Edited by Stephanie Bunn and Victoria Mitchell

The Material Culture of Basketry celebrates basketry as a culturally significant skilled practice and as a theoretically rich discipline that has much to offer contemporary society. While sometimes understudied and underappreciated, it has much in common with mathematics and engineering, art, craft and design, and can also act as a socially beneficial source of skill and care.

Contributors show how local knowledge of materials, plants, and place are central to the craft. Case studies include the skill in weaverbird nest building (challenging how we perceive learning in craft and nature), an engineer's perspective on twining Peruvian grass bridges, and the local knowledge embodied in Pacific-plaited patterns and knots.

Photo essays explore materials and techniques from the point of view of artists, anthropologists, and mathematicians, revealing how the structure and skill in basketwork illustrate a significant form of textile technology. Thus, the book argues that the textures, patterns, and geometric forms that emerge through basketwork reflect an embodied knowledge that expresses mathematical and engineering comprehension.

The therapeutic value of the craft is recognized through a selection of case studies that consider basketry as a healing process for patients with brain injury, mental health problems, and as a memory aid for people living with dementia. This reclaims basketry's significant role in occupational therapy as an agent of recovery and well–being.

Finally, basketry's inherently sustainable nature is also considered, demonstrating the continuation of basketry in spite of handwork's general decline and profiling of new and recycled materials. Above all, the book envisages basketry as an intellectually rewarding means of knowing. It presents the craft as embodying care for skilled making and for the social and natural environments in which it flourishes.

Stephanie Bunn is a Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, UK. She conducts research through practice into Central Asian felt textiles and basketry worldwide, and collected and co-curated the first-ever British Museum exhibition of Kyrgyz felt textiles. She is the author of Nomadic Felts (2010) and editor of Anthropology and Beauty (2020).

Victoria Mitchell is a Research Fellow at Norwich University of the Arts, UK, where she was previously a Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies and Course Leader for MA Textile Culture. She works with the theory, practice, and history of textiles and basketry, with a particular interest in relationships between materials, making, metaphor, and meaning.

Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020, softcover, 7.52 x 9.92 inches, 312 pages.