Basket is an understatement. The easiest way to describe Yvonne Wielhouwer’s work is to call it art. She has one example that incorporates a magnificent horse conch that is suitable as a centerpiece for an important occasion — Christmas dinner, for example.
“Yvonne is one of the most talented artists that we feature in the gallery,” said Christine Scarsella of Art@830 in Key West. “Her work is organic, clean, fresh and precise.”
Wielhouwer has taken the traditional art of basket coiling (think rag rugs or rag baskets) and added a fabulous twist — she uses the pine needles from Big Pine Key’s slash pine.
“Pine needle baskets are a traditional American art form,” said Wielhouwer. “And coiling is older than poetry.”
Her pine needle baskets have fabulous touches — shells, rough-hewn sodalite beads, driftwood, white deer antlers and even shark cartilage. She harvests what she can legally, and buys the rest from trusted, fair trade sources. Many of her baskets have hardwood bottoms made from buttonwood or black mangrove, mahogany or seagrape. The thin slices of wood give the baskets a sturdy base, but are finished so lovingly as to be silky.
The baskets are sturdy — functional enough to catch car keys and change. Some are fantastic shapes with undulating ropes radiating out from the center that stand alone as sculpture. Others, with intricate designs, are like artwork to be hung on the walls.
Wielhouwer, a native of Big Pine Key for the past 36 years, said she lost a lot of her belongings in the storm, but not her desire to create. She’s constantly hunting for, and dreaming about, new materials. Her work for Mosquito Control takes her from key to key.
“You never know what you might find; sometimes it’s just a bit of driftwood,” she said. “But basket making is ‘zen’ for me.”
Her creations cost from $20 to $300 each and are available at Art@830, plus art shows such as the one at Sugarloaf School on Dec. 2 and the Art Under the Oaks in the Upper Keys on Jan. 13. For more examples of her work, see her Facebook page, “Big Pine Needle Baskets” to learn more.