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
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
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 Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
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 — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
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
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, $5-$7 (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
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
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
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
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
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
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, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102