Last Saturday I spent a very pleasant afternoon at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) in Reading. The occasion was a commons feast, to launch the project The Commons: Re-enchanting the World.
The commons is a social system that cares for and preserves resources that we all share: land, air, and water. This project invited six artists to respond to the commons and the challenges we face today, and how these link to complex histories of ownership and land enclosure.
One of the artists, Catherine Morland, had used basketry, cordage, weaving, and knots in her installations that were on display in the galleries.
Catherine had also asked members of the Basketmakers’ Association to make bread baskets that would be used to display different types of sourdough bread at the feast. I made one of these, as did John, one of my basketry tutors at City Lit, and Jo, one of the other students in my basketry class.
At the feast, our baskets were laid out with the others on a prettily decorated table.
There were various activities going on throughout the afternoon. Catherine was teaching people how to make cordage, with a good selection of materials including rush, corn husks, and day lily leaves. Despite my obsession with cordage, Ever Supportive Partner has never tried the technique, so he had a go. Having got the making bug, he went on to try making a corn dolly!
One of the other artists involved, Amanda Couch, had created some splendid straw masks on display in the galleries. They were topped with little cups for measuring out grain.
At the feast she was talking about growing and processing wheat into flour and making bread.
Another artist, Sigrid Holmwood in her “peasant painter persona”, had grown woad in the museum gardens and was demonstrating how to make an indigo dye bath. Some of her printed calicos were on display in the galleries.
The permanent collection at MERL holds lots of other basketry delights, including a willow horse, a plaited rush lunch bag, and a straw model of King Alfred.
The Commons: Re-enchanting the World runs until January 2022.