Greetings From a Renaissance Crafter

A “dabbler” who gets things done: Donna Leven. Photo by Clark Hodgin.

 

Although Hendersonville artist Donna Leven says woodworking has long been her favorite craft, it’s the woven baskets she’s been making all her adult life that have earned her a wide reputation. “I have always dabbled in some type of craft as a hobby,” says Leven, who taught herself the rudiments of basketmaking from a book.

A former editor for Hallmark Cards, Inc., she says she likes to “mix it up a bit” between weaving, woodworking, painting, knitting, and other mediums.

She credits long-time friend Jim Oneacre, formerly part of the Carolina Mountain Artists Guild — of which Leven is a founding member — for deepening her basket craft. “Jim knew I made baskets but had no one to pass his style on to. He asked if I would like to continue his work. I couldn’t refuse — I am so grateful to him.”

“You can do just about anything with gourds,” says the artist. This one features ornamental wood-burn and carving.

She describes that style in deep detail. All of Leven’s baskets begin with a solid oak base. Her other materials consist primarily of flat and round pieces of braided seagrass (she refers to it as “reed”), and she occasionally adorns her work with birds and other figures she cuts out of wood and paints.

Before beginning the weaving process, she cuts flat reed for the spokes (the upright pieces of the baskets). “To make them pliable, these pieces are then soaked in warm water, along with a very small, round reed and long pieces of flat oval reed called ‘weavers,’” she explains. “The next step is to insert the spokes into a groove in the wood base. … These are followed by the round reed, tucking it in behind the spokes, which secures the spoke into the base.” In this way, she says, no glue is needed.

Traditional basketry is Leven’s signature. Photo by Clark Hodgin.

Weaving then begins with the longer pieces of soaked weavers being woven under and over the spokes until Leven again reaches the starting point. This style successfully hides the beginnings and ends of the weavers.  

“I weave in this manner until I want to add color,” she continues. Then, using the same process, she adds a row of colored reed, a row of the braided sea grass, a row of color again, and then two more rows of the natural reed. After completing this stage, she moves onto weaving the rim until the basket is complete. After it’s dried, she finishes it with an oak stain.

Leven says she makes around 40 different styles of baskets, though all are variations on the same technique. They range in size from three-inch-diameter Christmas ornaments to a basket she calls The Great Divide, which measures about 20 inches across.

A triple-threat crafter, Donna Leven is also a woodcarver

Besides baskets and woodworking, she also enjoys transforming a certain ornamental cucurbit. “You can do just about anything with gourds — paint them, stain, carve, and wood burn.” Leven also makes decorative letters and numbers using resin.

“I absolutely love creating … being able to switch from one art form to another is exciting for me. I never get bored.”

Donna Leven sells her baskets at Carolina Mountain Artists Guild, 444 North Main St., in Hendersonville, and at Dogwood Crafters, 90 Webster St., in Dillsboro. She will display her work at Art on Main, scheduled for September 26-27 in Hendersonville. For more information, call the Artists Guild at 828-696-0707 or find “Carolina Mountain Artists Guild” on Facebook.

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