Ausgabe 01-02/24

The Interior Space Opens Up

Hiltrud Kamolz

There is hardly a craft that is older than basket weaving. As early as the Stone Age, woven baskets were smeared with clay and dried. This is how the first plates, bowls and other containers were made. But why should such an outdated, endangered craft still be taught in our technological age? Is it relevant for the future?

In addition to basket weaving, the range of subjects taught in the ninth grade also includes copper beating and sculpting. They all aim to create containers. This creates an interior space. This interior space may offer protection in the confrontation with sympathy and antipathy, and it is this interior space that is at stake. «Closed due to reconstruction» is a frequently quoted characterization of adolescents during puberty. In addition, a fundamental reorganization of the brain takes place at this age. Brain research has long known that everything the hands do has an effect on the structure of the brain. For toddlers, this begins with finger games. Crafts and manual work continue the development. The activity of the right or left hand has an effect on the opposite hemisphere of the brain.

The hands of a basket maker are distinctive. Just weaving the first few rounds of the basket base requires physical strength from students that is only available from this age on. Willpower is required, and many a blister on the fingers testifies to the fact that they are working with a very strong material.

Before we start weaving, I explain to the students why we are weaving wicker baskets in ninth grade. I tell them about the history of basket weaving and about certain traditions in other peoples. It is interesting, for example, that in some indigenous societies a child is given a basket woven with a special pattern at birth. This then serves as a bowl for maize porridge throughout the child's life, and after death the container is placed in the grave.

The special aspect about the ancient craft of basket weaving is that not a single movement can be performed by a machine. There are too many complicated movements. The following social issue can now be addressed: It takes even a master craftsman several hours to make a beautiful, large basket. So why can we get such cheap baskets in the supermarket? Who makes them and where? The topic of child labor is discussed.

Baskets are sustainable. In the past, everything was packed in baskets, even the yeast cube. Today's plastic packaging is much lighter and cheaper. But how are they disposed of? This raises the environmental question. Baskets can last a lifetime and give us some warmth in the oven at the end.

Basket weaving lessons affect essential senses

Blind people can actually weave baskets. The sense of touch therefore plays a major role. But other senses are also used. The unpeeled willows, soaked for up to a week, give off a distinctive scent, and water and heat play a role in making them pliable. Afterwards I tell them something about the willows as plants, that the bark contains salicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin), we then chew on a piece and taste it. Afterwards, the few tools required are presented and attention is drawn to the importance of selecting rods that are compatible with each other.

And now the work begins. First, a cross is made from eight thicker willow end pieces for the base. This is formed into a star by braiding two rods around it with enormous force. Then it is «piled up», which means that 32 willow rods are laid flat in the ground in the appropriate places. The result is a large sun, often with a diameter of up to three meters. This step requires a lot of effort on the part of some students, as the work is now completely open and spread out in the room. Those who can withstand this surprising sight can now attach the foot ring, which will later give the basket the necessary stability. The stakes are then bent upwards and for the first time an interior in the form of a skeleton can be seen. The foot ring can still be attached at this point, but not quite as evenly as on the open basket. I give this second option to students who can't stand the open situation. Then silence returns. Almost dreamily, the plait-like weave with three willows can be wound up – the word wall is derived from wind, by the way – the container, the interior space is created. The students would love to have endlessly long rods now, but new ones have to be added all the time. There is an inhalation and exhalation: thick end of the willow rod to thick end, thin end to thin end.

The temperaments of the students can be recognized in the resulting shapes of the workpieces: a loose weave in an opening form can indicate the cheerful nature of the sanguine. Choleric people love the frequent use of the chisel to achieve a firm, straight shape. In some melancholics, the form closes off, while the phlegmatic, who works quietly, doesn't want to come to an end. However, the form can always be shaped or changed at will. When everyone is weaving away, the first confidential conversations slowly begin. As if there were no teacher in the room, worries, joys and judgments are exchanged and questions formulated. The inner emotional space opens up. Finally, the somewhat complicated final round takes place, in which the upright stakes are woven together. The work on the basket is completed by cutting back all the protruding willow. The work is now finished and is assessed by the students themselves. «I could have woven it much more evenly.» «This bump could have been avoided.» «Can the hole still be filled?»
But there is still enough time to weave a second and sometimes even a third basket better, one is rarely satisfied, because the eye is trained through a process of self-awareness.

The question can therefore be answered as to whether these lessons are relevant for the future. Like all other arts and crafts lessons, it plays a major role in the mental development of adolescents and promotes healthy growth in the turbulent times of adolescence in a way that should not be underestimated.

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