Betty Matthews watches intently as Noella Moore demonstrates for her how to weave strips of reed. Suddenly, Matthews grabs hold to one of the strips and skillfully weaves it through the upright strips.
There’s a lot of work to making a basket, Matthews acknowledges, but she is willing to give it a try. “If someone wants to tell me what to do, I can do it.”
Moore, who has been teaching basket-weaving since learning the traditional craft from Lennox Island elders Irene and David Haley in 2003, is gladly helping Matthews and other residents of Stewart Memorial Home in Tyne Valley make their own baskets.
Of the 21 residents of the home, 12 are active participants in a basket weaving course offered through the provincially funded Learning Elders Arts Program. LEAP is administered by the P.E.I. Seniors Citizens Federation.
The program has been offered every Monday since January. It will wrap up with an open house and display of the finished projects in the home’s solarium on March 12 from 1 to 4 p.m.
Stewart Lewis and Earl Labobe are former basket-weavers from Lennox Island. They are taking the course and quietly work at their own pace.
While working on his own basket, Lewis supervises and directs the basket-weaving progress of fellow participant Velma Ross.
“She’s doing the very best,” Lewis offers.
“He doesn’t dare say anything else,” Ross chuckles.
Basket-weaving is almost a lost art, said project assistant, Tracy MacLennan, acknowledging it is good to have former basket-weavers like Lewis and Labobe helping to pass on the skills.
Lewis used to make potato baskets year-round on Lennox Island. Many of them were delivered to a store in Port Hill for sale to area potato farmers. Physical challenges with his hands make basket-weaving more difficult, now, but he admits the reeds and white ash being used in the training are easier to manipulate than the black ash he travelled to New Brunswick to obtain and then used in making the larger potato baskets.
He no longer has any of the baskets he made, and he said he plans to give away as gifts the ones he’s making in the LEAP project.
Ross suggests with a laugh she will keep her money in one of the baskets she’s making.
Labobe said he made baskets both in Lennox Island and in Maine.
The LEAP funding covers materials costs and the instructor’s wage.
Moore said she and her daughter prepared the strips for the project and demonstrated how to make the baskets. “They went from there. It’s awesome,” she said.
They’ve been completing the baskets in stages, first laying out the strips and building the bottoms in one session, and then weaving the sides and finishing off the baskets in a subsequent session.
“I like it,” resident Joyce Baglole said of the course. “Just doing it.” She’s looking forward to showing the baskets she makes to her grandchildren.
Louis Cameron was sitting out the most recent training session, but he has already made a basket and is intently observing the weavers at work. “You don’t realize who much work there is to it,” he notes.
Two 3-D decorations are also being weaved by participants.
Recreation therapist at the home, Crystal Gardiner, marvels how quickly the residents, even those with physical limitations, have caught on to basket-weaving.
“It challenges them cognitively and physically,” Gardiner adds, explaining the weaving technique is good for the residents’ hand movements.
There are also lots of stories shared and observations made during the weekly sessions, said Gardiner in noting the course addresses several skill sets including physical, social, listening and creativity.
Moore said she looks forward to the weekly session with the residents. The residents get to keep the baskets they’ve made after the Open House is held and it is up to them whether they keep knickknacks, money or anything else in the baskets or simply keep them on display for family and friends to admire.