A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. One artist lucky enough to be selected said sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Basket artist Jackie Abrams
began making traditional, functional baskets in 1975. Today, she makes two lines of contemporary baskets using non-traditional materials.
“One are [is] coiled baskets using a very traditional coil technique where it’s stitched… and for that I use recycled fabric,” she explained. “I also weave other baskets with a heavy cotton paper and wire to make a form…reminiscent of a woman’s form,” said Abrams.
Jackie Abrams' work. (Julie Taboh/VOA)
She describes her coiled baskets as her "Spirit Vessels."
"The exposed cores represent their essential beings, their solid inner cores, giving strength, always visible. Each stitch connects and reinforces the rows that came before. The frayed edges are a part of their lives," she said.
She describes her "Women Forms" as "a series of woven vessels that speak of women, their shared stories, and their layers of experience. They are continuing studies in form, color, and surface textures. The inside and outside of each piece tell a different story. The outside has been formed and shaped by society, her life, and her experiences. The inside catches the light in unexpected ways, reflecting her inner strengths. These strengths are not always visible; you have to look carefully."
Abrams considers these decorative 'sculptures,' and said she’s very interested in exploring what she can use to cover the surfaces of her pieces, including sand or other textured materials.
Jackie Abrams as an apprentice in the mid-1970s.
The fiber artisan is one of 123 artists presenting their work at the Smithsonian Craft Show
in Washington. The annual event is widely regarded as the most prestigious juried craft show in the country and one of the most difficult to be accepted into.
“This is the fourth time I’ve done this show in 17 years,” she said, “and it’s a thrill to be here."
The show includes hundreds of one-of-a-kind or limited edition works representing a variety of media; everything from glass, wood and wearable art to vibrant dioramas with miniature figurines made out of boiled potatoes and plaster.
But for Abrams, exhibiting her baskets here is just one of the highlights of her career.
The other is work she began doing with women in Africa in 2005.
She started in Ghana, sharing her skills and talents.
“While I was there, there was so much trash all over the ground and so many plastic bags,” she said. “I’m a fiber person, and I thought we can use these fibers, we can clean these bags and use them.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
Working under the auspices of a micro-lending organization, she taught women to crochet using the throwaway plastic trash bags. They made wallets with zippers and carrying bags.
The women generated enough income from their handicrafts to help support their families.
Practicing basket-making as taught by Jackie Abrams in Ghana.
“I think these women now have some economic freedom from their husbands, it gives them a little power within their families,” Abrams said. She added that it also gave the women “a sense of worth.”
Abrams would like to go back to Africa one day to help empower more women financially.
But in the meantime, she looks forward to expanding her line of basket sculptures and hopes be selected for the Smithsonian Craft Show again next year.