Rural Missouri - January 2012 - (Page 26)

Steve and Debbie Uhlmann keep the art of oak basket weaving alive in the Ozarks asket making is one of the oldest crafts in the Ozarks. People of the Ozarks wove baskets for countless everyday uses in the home, field and barn. Farming families wove baskets for trade or sale, helping the family’s finances. Families would work together on gathering and preparing natural materials such as grasses, timber or vines needed to weave a basket that could carry game or even eggs. The art of weaving baskets is as old as the history of mankind, with traces of woven baskets found in the fragments of ancient pottery in the Egyptian pyramids. American Indians fashioned baskets for every need, incorporating twigs and bark into baskets woven for traps and even to carry their babies. Today, modern basket makers such as Steve and Debbie Uhlmann keep the specialized art of splitoak basket making alive. The husband-wife team comes from a long line of basket crafters. Debbie’s father, Loyd, was taught the art of basket weaving from a Reeds Springs gentleman named Bill Rantz. Debbie’s father married into the Rantz family and learned basket making, eventually passing the craft on to his own family. For more than 60 years, Debbie’s family has been making white oak basketry in the Ozarks a tradition. “We are proud to make a basket that someone will enjoy, and we take pride in our family’s work,” says Steve. “Baskets are something that families can pass down the line.” In the 1980s, the Uhlmanns were running a hog farm when the industry took a tumble and producers around the state, including Steve and Debbie, felt the shock. The couple took their basket-making skills to a new level and turned them into a fulltime business. The Uhlmanns produce distinctive split white oak baskets, well known in the Ozarks, which are woven from thin, flexible splints (strips) of oak that serve as the basket’s ribs. The Ozark hills offer a variety of B by Lane Baldwin-McConnell timber choices that old-timers used for making items such as wagon tongues and ax and hammer handles. According to Steve, most of the utilitarian objects were derived from white oak lumber. “White oak wasn’t only the easiest wood to use, but it was the most durable. That’s why our baskets are made from the timber. It will last a lifetime,” says the Howell-Oregon Electric Cooperative member. The couple ensures their handwoven baskets will last for many generations. Steve takes great care to select the best white oak logs from the family farm or local lumber mills for the baskets they hope will one day be heirlooms. “Good, straight oak timber is hard to find. We want timber that is very straight, no knots and pliable. Soil is the biggest factor,” he explains. “I don’t use anything bigger than a 6-foot log, because I have to be able to handle the log.” A local mill cuts the logs into halves and the logs are brought to the basket-making shop Drury on the Uhlmann’s • farm. There, Steve cuts the timber with a handmade saw and then takes it into the shop to be cut to make basket ribs. He also uses handmade tools to cut oak ribs for weaving. After the ribs are cut, they are hung to dry. As wood dries, it shrinks. For this reason, the ribs must be dried before being used to make baskets. Steve chooses a homemade basket form from an assortment in the shop. He takes a handful of ribs, plunges the ends into a 5-gallon bucket of water and begins to herringbone weave on the flat, rectangular basket bottom. “At this point, I hand off the basket to Debbie,” he says. “She takes over and finishes the weaving.” Debbie continues crafting the sides of the basket and chooses colored ribs to finish the basket weave. “Our youngest son, Rueben, is the creative one. He suggested we add the color black to some of the baskets, and it’s been pretty popular,” says Debbie. All three of the Uhlmann’s sons — photo by Heather Berry Ozark natives Steve and Debbie Uhlmann are carrying on a 60-year legacy of splitoak basket weaving started by Debbie’s father decades ago. Jeremy, Nathan and Rueben — also share the art of basket weaving. After the basket has dried for 30 minutes, the weaving is pulled snug and every other rib is turned over or trimmed. Then, the handle is laced to the basket body. “The lacing material is the best material we have for whip stitching the handle,” says Debbie. “When Steve comes across a very good tree, we will set aside its ribs for tying.” Steve knows a good tree the moment it’s cut, because the white oak resembles leather in its texture. The Uhlmann family has made thousands of baskets throughout the years, averaging about 600 per year in 16 different sizes. They say they’re not really sure how much time goes into making each basket. “Weaving doesn’t take that long,” says Debbie. “It’s getting the timber and preparing it that takes the longest.” Basket collectors can pick up most of the baskets from $18 to $36, depending upon the size. Special order prices vary. The family has created a variety of special order baskets for customers such as a trapper basket on skids and a 6-by-36-inch mantle basket to hold flowers. “No basket is ever alike,” says Steve. Debbie adds, “And if we goof on a basket — which happens from time to time — it ends up in my house and we use it for a garden basket.” Debbie has collected a long line of baskets at shows and through trading some of her own baskets with other collectors. Some are made from twigs, honeysuckle and even horse hair. “Basket collecting has become serious business for some,” she explains. “Some of the most sought-after baskets are the Appalachian baskets because they are rived (meaning the materials are hand prepared). The prices on the baskets reflect the labor spent on weaving typically. Some baskets require many hours.” Basket making is a specialized craft that takes years of patient study. The technique has been passed down and expanded upon throughout many years in the Ozark hills. The art of oak basket weaving is a family tradition that has been woven through three generations of the Uhlmann family and looks to continue into the future if Steve and Debbie get their wish. “Split oak basket making is becoming a lost art,” says Steve, adding that it’s getting harder and harder to find good, straight oak timber. “There aren’t many oak basketmakers left.” You may contact Steve and Debbie at 417-261-2953 or at 100 HC 73, Drury, MO 65638. Baldwin-McConnell is a freelance writer from Hollister and a member of White River Valley Electric Cooperative in Branson. 26 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - January 2012

Rural Missouri - January 2012
Table of Contents
Superior steel
Facing ‘extreme men’
Return to the prairie
Out of the Way Eats
Missouri snapshots
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Woven in tradition
Around Missouri
The Nimblewill Nomad

Rural Missouri - January 2012