Witch and pumpkin baskets
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Bluebird Hill Basketry and Crafts, Rockbridge

Rockbridge artist Karen Unroe weaves intricate baskets great for everyday use or holiday decorating.

For as long as she can remember, Karen Unroe has had an affinity for baskets. As a child, she squirreled away trinkets in the coiled one she kept in her bedroom and began collecting them as souvenirs on family vacations.

Three decades ago, the Rockbridge resident turned her interest into artistry. In addition to launching Bluebird Hill Basketry and Crafts, she teaches classes at Homegrown on Main in Logan.

“I like the utilitarianism of baskets,” she says. “And I’m fascinated by the different cultures they represent.”

Unroe spent several years fruitlessly reading how-to manuals in the hopes of mastering basket-making methodology. That changed in 1987, when she met Leota Hutchison, whose prowess at basketweaving is legendary in southeast Ohio.

“She was generous in sharing her technique with me,” Unroe says while reminiscing about her late friend, who died in 2011. “From the moment I started, I knew it would be something I would love.”

To craft her containers, which come in sizes big enough to hold business cards, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine or a load of laundry, Unroe purchases rattan palm by the pound. The artist then dyes each piece in colors ranging from jewel tones of dark green and plum to earthen hues of brown and orange. Once the pieces dry, she weaves them together to form twill patterns resembling those found in quilts.

Unroe’s “Flying Arrows” design replicates the pattern she spied on the tile floor of a restaurant. Another was inspired by the diamond-shaped architecture adorning the side of a bank she frequents. Sometimes, the ideas for new designs come to her in dreams.

“I will see myself making a new basket and when I get up the next morning, I will copy what I saw while I was sleeping,” Unroe says with a laugh.

The artist takes delight in fashioning whimsical designs based on the season, including adorable pumpkins and witches in the run-up to Halloween. “I love to embellish my baskets with buttons, beads or dyed reeds,” she says, “so they have a personality all their own. 

To learn more about Karen Unroe’s works, visit facebook.com/bluebirdhillbasketry.