Joan Brink ’67 finds inspiration in nature and takes basket making to new heights.
By Mary Howard

“I feel my passion in nature, participating with all my being in its beauty,” says artist Joan Lacouture Brink ’67. A basket weaver, who spent summers on Nantucket as a child and lived in France, Italy and Vancouver before settling in Santa Fe, N.M., Brink draws on the creative traditions from her various homes. Using the same technique employed in the creation of traditional Nantucket baskets, Brink weaves original pieces that echo the Pueblo pottery of the Southwest. But it is in the natural world that Brink finds her greatest inspiration. “Everywhere I look in nature, I see forms that relate to basketry: spider webs and the spiraled patterns in flowers,” she says.

An art major at Connecticut College, she credits the late Professor of Art History Charles Price “for setting my world on fire.” A painter, Brink became serious about basket weaving while living in Vancouver, Canada, where her husband taught art history at the University of British Columbia. “My passion for basketry came out of a show brought to the University of British Columbia in the 1970s by Professor Marvin Cohodas, my first basketry teacher.

“From the moment I started weaving, I had an immediate affinity for basketry. It hit me on the heart level,” she says.

Her earlier pieces closely resembled traditional Nantucket Lightship baskets, but Brink incorporated color and design in the weave and added ebony accents. Instead of topping the basket with a scrimshaw piece, she collaborated with Native artists, who created original carvings that Brink used in her baskets.

Over the years, her work has evolved, and her current pieces are graceful and feminine, expressing the artist’s personal meditations — she refers to weaving as “meditation” — on themes of time, prayer, migration, thanksgiving and abundance. Brink collaborates with her husband, Joel, who creates forms for the baskets on his lathe. This allows Brink to weave baskets that close in on themselves and gives her a larger surface upon which to weave designs. Her husband also makes the pieces’ wooden elements, including rims, bases and lids.

“My art history courses [at Connecticut College] set me up for life,” says Brink, who has remained a lifelong learner. Through her reading, Brink “stumbled across” the Navajo beauty path. “It touches on my own philosophy,” she says. “To always bring beauty and balance into my life as a response to the harmony of nature is at the heart of my personal understanding of this spiritual way.”

Brink also studies proportional systems and sacred geometry, and the symbols woven into her baskets and the shapes of the baskets themselves are based on these principles. Her baskets are shown in galleries throughout the United States and Canada and command prices of several thousand dollars per piece and more. It takes her one month of six-hour days to weave a basket, and she produces between 10 and 11 finished pieces each year.

“Beauty has been trivialized in art for so long,” says Brink, who also acknowledges that basket weaving has not always been well respected in the art community. When Brink was struggling with mathematics as a high school student, her father warned her that she needed to improve her grades or she might end up in “Basket Weaving 101.” Ironically, Brink is now at the vanguard of a large, contemporary basketry movement.