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The Worshipful Company of Basketmakers Basketry Showcase

The Venice Bienniale is well-known.  Within the City of London, another artistic bienniale is the famed Basketry Showcase – so good that Masters, Consorts and other members of the Livery braved the very wet weather to visit the Dutch Church at Austin Friars for this unusual exhibition of an ancient craft – the oldest known baskets were found at Fayum in Egypt and dated to c10,000BC.  Rather more recently (!), the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers was formally constituted by the Court of Aldermen in 1569 to help support the trade.  The familiar figures of the defenders of London, Gog and Magog, at the head of the Lord Mayor’s Parade were made by the Basketmakers.

The entrance to the church was appropriately flanked by sheaves of reeds, and we were greeted by ladies in traditional 16th century Dutch dress.

Inside, an amazing variety of basketry awaited us, from the small (woven cord tassels for keyrings, and wicker birds on sticks to enhance a dried flower display) to large (a wicker tower, and several chairs, some rattan, some with wicker seats, some with intricate caning designs).  The range of goods was surprising – from rush table mats (far superior to the one attempted at a class with the Basketmakers recently) to attractive artistic artwork and of course containers for every conceivable item.  Who knew there could be a basket for a curling stone?  That came from a Northumbrian workshop.  Some items were striped, incorporating different materials, and even fabric (felt), and comprised such beautiful, tactile, shapes.

Some artisans were very happy to talk about their work.  Owen Jones was working on a traditional Lakeland basket, which he completed that day, and began another.

A main attraction of basket-making is the contact with nature, with working with natural materials, with being environmentally-friendly, and maintaining traditional crafts.

The Prime Warden, Lady Dorothy of Lauriston, had grown her own willow on her estate in Scotland.  She had harvested it at Candlemas when it was about a year old, and had woven a small bird-feeder, to be presented to Honorary Liveryman HRH the Duchess of Gloucester, who was to arrive once the Livery had dispersed.  The Duchess was also presented with a willow apple basket, made in Royal Deeside.

Guests were provided with wine and a light lunch, which was very welcome.  By the time we were ready to leave it had thankfully stopped raining.

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