Sharon Schaeffer creates an egg basket in her Westminster studio. (Ken Koons / Carroll County Times)
A selection of Carroll County artists will open their studio doors to the public this December as part of the 11th annual Studio Arts Tour. To help commemorate the event, now entering its second decade, the Times will feature profiles of participating artists biweekly in Life and Times.
For many artists, it's simply a desire to get the image in their head onto the canvas or into the clay that drives their creativity. For Sharon Schaeffer, whose basket-weaving work will be displayed in the Studio Arts Tour, it's the act of creation that drives her.
"I'm certainly happy to see the end result, but if that's all I liked, if I did it once, that would be sufficient," Schaeffer said. "I like the process. I like the fact that you can take a traditional basket and make each one different from the next, just by changing the colors or the materials."
Schaeffer's baskets blend traditional and contemporary techniques and stylistic flourishes, with most made of reed, ash oak and seagrass. She hand dyes and stains her reeds for bold and unique color combinations.
Schaeffer said she makes baskets for herself, to sell at the Historical Society of Carroll County, Off Track Art, at conventions and on commission. One of the most unique baskets she ever created came out of a commission for an unusual customer.
"A magician commissioned me to create a large basket to use for a trick," Schaeffer said. "The woman had to go into the basket and he was going to stab it with knives. His mentor had an antique one that was difficult to find now, so he showed me the original and asked if I could duplicate it."
Schaeffer's passion for basket-weaving came about while she was working on her master's degree in art education. At the time, Schaeffer said, she was focusing on fiber art when a friend recommended they take a basket together. In doing so, she said, something inside her clicked.
"I find it very relaxing," Schaeffer said. "When I travel or if I study different cultures, there's basket making wherever you go. It doesn't matter what time in history you're in, you can find someone making a basket."
One of the most interesting parts of basket weaving is taking inspiration from these diverse creators spread out over the world, she said. Each region has its own methods and materials for basket weaving from white oak to sweet grass. Schaeffer said in the studio, she can take these inspirations and weave them together to create something new and exciting.
The sense of community among basket weavers is one of the best aspects of art form, Schaeffer said. She runs a blog on her website, swschaeffer-baskets.blogspot.com, about her latest projects and techniques, and is a member of the Basket Weavers Guild. Later this month, they will host a large convention in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, bringing together weavers from across the country. It's these kinds of communal events where they all swap tips and inspire each other.
"Any artist is always open for inspiration," Schaeffer said. "It doesn't have to be a basket, per se. It might be a shape I see. A sculptural form or a material used. All of a sudden, an idea is formed and I'm off creating my own thing."
Studio Artist Tour
In two weeks we will profile artist Teri Koenig.
Future artists in the series include Kelsey Wailes, Trista Fedoruk, Laura Fedoruk, Laura Koenig, Laura Wailes, Joyce Schaum, Max Groff and Elisa Dasher.Schaum, Max Groff and Elisa Dasher.