Left: Well used white oak basket made by "Happy Jack" Nicholson around 1885-1936. (Private collection of Debbi Dellinger)
Middle: White oak basket made by Landon Nicholson around 1910-1955. (Private collection of Debbi Dellinger)
Right: White oak basket made by Debbi Dellinger in 2007
Baskets were a necessity in the days before paper bags and plastic and metal containers. They were constructed in all shapes and sizes for many different uses and with many different natural materials. Each basketmaker had techniques and traditions that were handed down through the family. Many of the methods of basket construction were also regional. Most basketmakers sold or traded their wares for other goods that could not be made in the home. White oak is the basketmaker's wood of choice regionally and has become increasingly hard to come by in recent years. Disease, air pollution, acid rain and of course clearing away of timber for new construction have all taken their toll on good "basket wood". Basketmakers who practice the old time-consuming methods are now being recognized for their craft and appreciated for the artists they are. Current prices for true white oak baskets may seem rather high but considering the skill and time invested coupled with the scarcity of good wood, they are still a bargain for anyone wanting a basket that will hold up through generations of use and a "family heirloom" that will be appreciated for many years to come.
Our heartfelt thanks go to the staff of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley for allowing us to photograph Great-granddad's basket and for making my Mother's birthday a memorable one.
If you have not yet visited the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, please plan to do so when in the area.