VINES and leaves get a crafty new life at the hands of a basketmaker, writes SARAH HUDSON
Residents of Leongatha in South Gippsland have an unspoken pact: whenever they have green rubbish, they offer it to Pat Dale.
No, Pat is not a mulch fanatic. She is a basket weaver, who started as a hobbyist 50 years ago with the CWA, and is now one of Victoria's leading sculptural basket artists, with her work on show at the Ararat Art Gallery's current basketry exhibition.
In order to create her art, the 73-year-old needs a constant supply of vines and leaves, any green matter, from wisteria to clematis vine, eucalypt to red hot poker leaves.
Her own garden is an Aladdin's cave of green treasures: New Zealand flax, dianella, lomandra, kennedia vine.
"My neighbour is very good. When they've got wisteria to take to the tip they offer it to me. Everyone around town knows I'm a basket maker and offers me vines and leaves," Pat says.
Using either fresh green matter, or stuff that has been dried and soaked in water for use, she transforms the material into functional and decorative items, fish traps, sculptures, some dyed with natural colours, which are sold in local art galleries, with prices ranging from $55 to $600.
"It's amazing the amount of materials you can use, although you have to be careful as some crack and break," says the grandmother of three.
"If you're desperate, for instance, you could use agapanthus, but I don't because they dry to tissue-paper thin and you have to bunch them."
Pat doesn't just confine her work to leaves and vines, but adds old fabrics, even an old tablecloth soaked in the red clay earth in her backyard, or bales of twine.
The only materials she won't use are synthetic. The creations - and the storage of all the drying greenery - are done around the house and in the backyard shed she shares with husband John: "He says they're a fire trap".
Pat, who is also an acrylic artist painting abstracts, says it wasn't always this way.
She started off making baskets as a hobby with the junior set CWA and it wasn't until the late 1970s that it developed into art.
She first completed a diploma in visual arts, but it was when she met American artist Douglas Fuchs (1947-1986) in the early 1980s that her world opened up.
Fuchs' work - together with pieces by Pat and other Victorian weavers - is being exhibited at the Ararat Art Gallery, called Floating Forest, which includes a basket weaving symposium on March 31.
"I attended his workshops and they blew my mind.
"Douglas has been a huge influence for me, showing me different materials to use - he used palm branches and grapevine - he put a challenge out and I picked it up.
"He told me I should write a book."
Which she eventually did, releasing Basketry and Weaving with Natural Materials in 1998.
It is still sold from the Meeniyan Art Gallery.
These days Pat weaves for exhibitions, and runs workshops around Gippsland, and at the Basketmakers of Victoria.
- Ararat Basketfest 2012 symposium, Performing Arts Centre, March 31, 9.30am-4pm.
- Ararat Regional Art Gallery's Floating Forest, until April 1, ph: (03) 5352 2836.
- Basketmakers of Victoria: basketmakersofvictoria.com.au/