~THE ARTIST~BIOGRAPHYPHILOSOPHYPRESS
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INTERVIEW WITH JOAN BRINK
(NBO NEWS, National Basketry Organization, Inc., Vol. 4, Issue 2, April, 2004)

NBO: You mentioned Navajo in your writing. What tribal influence has had the most influence on your work? Who has been the greatest influence on your work?
Joan: My passion for basketry came out of a show brought to the University of British Columbia in the 1970’s by Professor Marvin Cohodas, my first basketry teacher. It was an exhibition of ‘degikups’ or Washo ‘fancy baskets.’ I had never before seen such exquisite work. I felt these vessels transcended craft and were
works of art. The baskets of Dat-so-la-lee were so sublime and beautiful that I would have to say that she has been the greatest single inspiration for my work. In addition, since coming to Santa Fe, the Pueblo pottery of the Southwest has motivated me to create graceful, feminine basketry forms.

NBO: Do you copy Native American designs or do you create your own?
Joan: When I first started weaving coiled pieces in the 1970’s I copied one Native American design as a technical learning exercise. Other than that, however, I have created my own designs. The current vessel shapes, for example, are composed according to the ratios of harmonic and geometrical proportion. And my design motifs, colorful patterns which form a language of glyphs, are original and are governed by the limitations imposed by the weave itself. These glyphs are my personal means of expressing narrative and symbolic content in my baskets.

NBO: How do Native Americans relate to your work?
Joan: In my experience Native Americans find my work beautiful and have always shown great respect for it. During my early years, when I was weaving ‘Lightship’ purses and small containers, I collaborated with several Native carvers in British Columbia. They liked my work enough to carve pieces specifically designed for the lids of the baskets. In Canada, I also exhibited my work in a Native American owned gallery. Since coming to Santa Fe, I have had two well-known Native American women artists initiate trades with me for my work. In addition, I have exhibited alongside Native American artists in the Lewallen ‘Indian Market Show,’ and I contributed work to ‘Pathways: Explorations in Native American Culture’, a show at the Transamerica Pyramid Lobby in San Francisco highlighting the mutual cross-cultural influences between Native American art and contemporary artists.

NBO: Do you teach and if so, do you teach what you do - many teachers teach other than what they make—a different style or design, etc?
Joan: I have never taught basketry. There are already many gifted people teaching the weaving technique that I employ. I have taken that traditional method and pushed its boundaries to express my personal vision in color, form and content.

NBO: What other type of basketry has influenced your work and have you made
pieces without a mold or armature?

Joan: Coiled basketry was my first weaving technique. No mold or armature was ever needed to ensure formal consistency, just strong hands and a vision of the whole. Coiling is a method that lends itself to beautiful design work and it is this that I introduced to Nantucket cane technique. This method requires molds to maintain shape and proportion.

NBO: What type of weaving do you use and what type of wood do you use for the top and bottom of your pieces? Do you weave with rattan? If so, how do you get paint to stay on rattan? If you don’t use rattan, what do you use?
Joan: The category of weaving is stake and strand basketry. The technique I use is plain weave. The weaving material is rattan (cane) and the staves are rattan or reed. For my dyed material I use a bleached rattan called ‘hamburg white’. In the bleaching process the cellulose coating on the material is broken down allowing the rattan to take dye. I use many types of wood for the rims, bases and lids of the baskets, including satinwood, bloodwood, maple, walnut, ebony, purpleheart and yellow cedar, etc.

NBO: I think it is wonderful that your husband collaborates with you and that your children are involved with the arts. How has this affected your creativity and your work? Do your children offer suggestions, and if so, what kind, and do you take them?
Joan: My husband’s lathing skills have allowed my work to evolve from the simple straight-sided Nantucket shapes to larger, more complex vessel forms that close in on themselves. This allows me a much larger surface area upon which to weave design. Joel has also been responsible for the wooden parts of my baskets and he applies a knowledge of proportion to all the elements, including rim, base, vessel shape and volume. My older daughter Lisa, an award-winning graphic designer in Los Angeles, has created a lovely website for me which demonstrates her understanding of my concern with beauty. My other daughter Laura, who is a painter and lives in Santa Fe, is in constant creative dialogue with me. She lets me know which designs she finds successful or not. So, as you can see, the whole family plays a part in my creative endeavors. I believe the whole is more than the sum of its parts in this collaborative force.

NBO: How do you like working with galleries that sell your work? I realize you have a website; how effective has it been and do you sell on the site? Does this affect any of your gallery affiliations?
Joan: I have had great luck with the galleries I have dealt with over the years and have none of the horror stories to tell that I have heard from others. I think good communication between the artist and the gallery is the most important thing. My website www.joanbrink.com is used more as a reference library for my work than as a commercial site. The baskets in the E-Gallery, however, are available in various galleries around the country. When someone contacts me through the website who is interested in a specific work, I send them on to the gallery which has that piece, and this process is working fine.

NBO: Who are some artists whose work you admire?
Joan: They are too numerous to list and they are in all media. My husband was a Medieval and Renaissance art historian and I have a degree in studio art so we have spent a lifetime looking at and appreciating fine art. I will, however, mention Andy Goldsworthy as a modern giant whose work is always an inspiration to anyone who loves and works with nature’s materials.

NBO: What is the price range of your work — give me some thoughts on pricing and why you chose the price points you put on your work.
Joan: My current price range is $2000-$5000. These retail prices evolved from my early Lightship style purses and containers which went for $600-$1800. Those prices were based on the baskets’ market value on Nantucket. The pricing of my larger pieces was decided upon between me and my gallery owner, the late Arlene Lewallen, before my first solo show with Lewallen Contemporary in Santa Fe.

NBO: Do you, or have you done American Craft Council (ACC) shows?
Joan: No, I have shown exclusively in galleries in Canada and the United States.

NBO: Have you received the recognition that you think you deserve?
Joan: Yes, definitely, although I think basketweaving in general has a ways to go in terms of recognition as an art form, but that is starting to happen in certain quarters.

NBO: What advice would you give an aspiring basketmaker today — someone who wants to make the leap from hobbyist to professional? Or advice to those that may just want a hobby and have no intentions of becoming a professional (studio) artist?
Joan: I think that all one truly needs to be a professional or hobbyist basketweaver is passion. That is what carries us forward as creative individuals. It is the passion for what we do that will make either choice secondary to the making itself.


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