Consider the basket.
For thousands of years, people have used them to carry, haul and store countless items, from life-giving grain to romance-inducing flowers. And now, in the 21st century, even as we send probes throughout the solar system and beyond, no one has improved upon its basic design since civilization first appeared in the rich land by the Euphrates River. Like the humble sewing needle, baskets still are serving mankind in much the same way they always have.
Billy Malone of the Tri-Lakes area north of Columbia City has considered baskets. A retired senior illustrator for the Magnavox Co. and author of a book about methods of lashing handles to rims of baskets, Malone has spent the last 13 years or so learning to make baskets of various kinds. His work will be on display at the Allen County Public Library, 900 Webster St., Fort Wayne, through Sept. 17.
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. September 9 and 10, Malone will be on hand to demonstrate and discuss basket weaving techniques. Malone shapes and carves most of the components he uses to make his baskets.
The library’s exhibit will feature traditional Nantucket baskets and purses made of mahogany, cherry, walnut and ash, along with other baskets such as antler, tapestry double-wall, shoulder purses, oval, melon bowl, wicker, tote, shaker, wine bottles and creel.
Didn’t know there were so many baskets in the world, did you? Well, as Neil Young once sang, turn off your MTV and get down to the library for a glimpse into a craft that emerged even before Britney Spears.
“In my book, I wrote about King Tutankhamen (circa 1366 BCE) who rested on a rush-woven chair. They found a split-reed chair in his tomb. The Egyptians used baskets to store their grain. They would dig pits and line them with basket works and fill them with grain. Baskets have been found in mummy cases,” Malone said.
The 30 or so baskets that will be on display at the library may be the direct descendants of ancestors found in Egyptian tombs, but they have distinctly modern looks and uses.
The Nantucket technique, of which Malone has become most fond, is a mold-woven basket, unlike most baskets, which are formed by hand. In other words, the staves and other components are molded around a wooden object something like an old hat block. Hard woods are always used, usually oak or cherry, although Malone has used mahogany and zebrawood.
Most of the baskets at the library’s exhibit will be of the Nantucket variety. Of course, there’s a story involved with the Nantuckets, as well.
According to Malone, the baskets were first developed in the early 19th century aboard lightships anchored off the shoals near Nantucket Island. Because these shoals and sandbars extended as far as 30 miles into the ocean, lightships were used instead of lighthouses to warn whaling ships. It seems the sailors had a lot of time on their hands and not much to do, besides raising and lowering lamps. They took up scrimshaw – the carving of ivory – and basket making.
As the whalers had to travel further for their prey, they brought back cane from the Orient. The basketmakers learned to weave the cane around the hardwood staves. The Nantucket basket was born.
“It’s known as the Cadillac of baskets,” Malone said. After the materials are acquired, it takes him about two weeks to make one Nantucket basket.
If he sold one, which he normally doesn’t, the best of his Nantuckets has been appraised at $3,000. Others would fetch $800 to $900. Don’t get your hopes up. Most will go to family members.
Malone said he was drawn to his craft by his love of “detail and precision.” As a senior illustrator for Magnavox, he spent years producing intricate technical drawings for the company’s publications. When he retired and starting spending winters with his wife, Ruth, in Nokomis, Florida, he wandered into a basket shop and became intrigued. Or, as he put it, “My brains fell out and I thought, ‘man, I’ve got to do this.’”
Within five years, he had written and published his book, which has sold at least 1,000 copies. New Lashings and Improvements to Old is available through libraries in Fort Wayne, Columbia City and Churubusco.
Malone has found a reliable source for the hardwoods he uses with an Indiana dealer in exotic woods. When he’s not spending winters in the Florida sun, he makes the 60-mile drive for his supplies. He buys boards of wood, cuts them, and puts the pieces on a router to form an edge. He also cuts slabs for the 1/16th-inch staves, soaks them and bends them around the form. Handles are sanded, soaked overnight and bent to the right size and form. Once dry, they stay that way, by god. In all, Malone said he has created some 50 baskets, “not as many as you would think.”
Although Malone honed his instincts for the aforementioned detail and precision through technical drawing, he began his education with formal art training at the Academy of Art in Chicago after graduating from high school in Columbia City. After moving to California and two tours of duty as an able-bodied seaman in the Merchant Marines, Malone returned to Indiana where he went to work at Farnsworth Electronics in Fort Wayne, the company owned by the tragic figure Philo T. Farnsworth, credited as the father of modern television.
With his art training, Malone on several occasions was called into Farnsworth’s office to prepare technical drawings that Farnsworth used in lectures and during television appearances. Farnsworth eventually was bludgeoned into obscurity by David Sarnoff, head of RCA, and is largely forgotten by the public now addicted to his invention, but Malone said it was a “thrill” to meet the great man.
After five years with Farnsworth, Malone went on to work for 33 years at Magnavox, as the senior illustrator in the publications department.
In 1999, Malone was honored by having one of his baskets chosen for a national exhibit of baskets at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A juried exhibit sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America, the show featured baskets by 37 basketmakers from around the United States. Malone’s “Whale of a Basket,” contemporary Nantucket Purse, was chosen from among hundreds of entries. It will be part of the exhibit at the Allen County Public Library.
“Whale of a Basket” has a mother whale and her youngster attached to the top, carved from basswood (“basswood is the carver’s friend; it’s soft and it doesn’t chip,” Malone said). The basket can be used as a strap purse and has a latch in the shape of an anchor, carved from corian countertop material, a sort of pseudo marble.
Malone teaches Nantucket weaving techniques at the Woven Spirit Basketry in Nokomis. In Florida, he’s also won several best of show awards in an annual state exhibit sponsored by the Venetian Society of Basketweavers.
As a one-man show at the Allen County Public Library, Malone hopes to elicit some of the same response he first had upon wandering into that Florida shop many years ago.
“People enjoy basket exhibits. I’m just trying to arouse more interest in the hobby. You go to an exhibit and you get inspired. You think, ‘That’s a good idea, I could do that.’ ”
Or, you can just admire the talent and patience of a master basketmaker such as Billy Malone.
by Alex Vagelatos
Friday, April 28
Click on the headings below for full calendars
Click header for complete Things To Do calendar
Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
Click header for complete On the Road calendar
Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
Click header for complete Stage & Dance calendar
Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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Click header for complete Art calendar
37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568