How did the humble pine needle rise from the forest floor to exhibit a star performance as seen in Roberta Condon’s work? Used as functional baskets, trim on gourds and accents on a larger pieces; Roberta’s pine needle coiling is contemporary, abstract and sculptural. Recently, artists have begun to redefine pine needle coiling; exploring new interpretations of the ancient craft that provided robust, hard-wearing baskets over the millennia.
Not all pine needles are created equal to this task. The pine needles from the longleaf pine tree are superior to shorter, thinner needles. The longleaf needles can be up to fifteen inches long and fill in the gauge more quickly. In historical times, Native American tribes harvested the long leaf needles for basket weaving and other daily uses. It is also said indigenous peoples managed the large longleaf pine forests that stretched from eastern Texas across the Deep South, along the Gulf and up to southeast Virginia. They used prescribed forest burn techniques which helped the long leaf thrive as it’s naturally resistant to fire. Longleaf pine savannas propagated a diverse eco-system; but their tall straight trunks also garnered the attention of ship builders and loggers and now their stands occupy 5% of their original forestation.
On a happier note, a 2009 study by the National Wildlife Federation says that Longleaf pine forests will be particularly well adapted to environmental changes caused by climate disruption. There are also many state and federal initiatives focused on restoring native Longleaf pine ecosystems.
Roberta Condon’s Artist Statement:
I am a pine needle coiler. I make baskets and sculptural pieces. I use Florida Longleaf pine needles and treat them, and sew them into my pieces. I have been a pastel painter for many years, and about 5 years ago studied with a master coiler for a week, and fell in love with the medium. I teach pine needle coiling at different venues.
I approach the art of pine needle coiling in two ways. I believe it’s important to learn the traditional stitches, and form, and materials, and use them in traditional ways. I keep my pieces simple and organic, and try to honor the simple beauty of the materials. The second way I approach the art form is to use the traditional skills to think outside the box ( or basket in this case). I create form that are non traditional and sculptural in nature.
A recurring theme is the honoring of the materials. In my case, with my art, often the theory that less is more comes in to play. There is not a lot of color, or beading, and I let the natural colors and textures and fibers speak for themselves.
My creative challenge is simply physics. The needles and thread will only do so much, will only turn a corner so tight, will only attach in a certain way and maintain stability. I am always pushing the laws of physics, and the limitations of the medium to bring a freshness to the work beyond the simple circular forms of a traditional coil.
I find the medium relaxing. Painting for me is defined as work. It takes a great deal of concentration. There are many times I approach my easel not wanting to be there, not wanting to paint. I enjoy coiling. I do it for relaxation, I work on it in the evenings, and at home. I take a basket to work on when I travel. Coiling puts me in a zen place.
The ideas that inspire me are those from nature. Every walk in the woods is a basket. The process begins with the selection of materials, often found items, and proceeds from there. Often I just start coiling with the materials and let the piece take me where it wants me to go, feeling my way through as I go.
I am a member of the Handweavers Guild of America.
Gallery of Roberta’s Pine Needle Basketry–the gallery presents the images randomly, so click on the images to see a slideshow.