"There is no machine that can make a basket...and if there was it would look terrible"

For four days in September I got to document Jamin Uticone of Swamp Road Baskets as he walked me through his process of creating a Black Ash Pack Basket. For eighteen years Jamin has been harvesting black ash wood from his swamp to support him and his family of five. 

"On average it's seventy baskets from a seventy year old tree and that is my years work."

Jamin only needs to harvest one or two trees a year to make the seventy baskets that he sells per year. I was blown away by the idea that it is his skill alone that let him get such value out of his woods. To anyone else the trees in that woods would be worth very little for timber or firewood but his knowledge of basketry with these trees allows him to make a living taking very little.

"In the winter when the baskets in our house start to dry out they make loud creaky sounds, the boys always called it basket talk. It's like they're reminding you that they are there". 

As the fall fires get going in Jamin and Julia's home at Swamp Road Baskets the baskets begin to speak. Jamin told me these baskets will out live us all and we talked about how almost everything we buy nowadays ends up being thrown away in our lifetime.

The process of removing the rings of the tree consists of hours hammering the log to loosen up all the years of growth. Each layer or year is peeled off slowly as he hammers farther down the log untill the ring is eventually free. Jamin talked about how he often thinks about each layer and what year it represents. 

"You're making containers of time"
jamin shop.jpg

Seeing this process first hand gave me a new persepctive on wood craft that I had not yet understood. With these skills we can create a new value and economy around trees that have very little value in our society today and in doing so create functional art that can be passed down through generations.

I hope you enjoy the black ash pack basket journey!