Woven Communities: the warp and the weft of Scottish vernacular basketry

Lead Research Organisation: University of St Andrews
Department Name: Philos Anthrop and Film Studies

Abstract

Woven Communities: the Warp and the Weft aims to draw on practical basketry as an important tool for enhancing public engagement with museum collections and as a means of extending reminiscence work within museums and promoting design thinking. We will work with the Scottish Basketmakers Circle (SBC), our partners from an earlier project, and 5 new partners: National Museums of Rural Life, the Highland Folk Museum, the Scottish Fisheries Museum, Shetland Museum, and An Lanntair, a multi-arts centre on Lewis.

The project has four key aims. First, we will carry out a series of public engagement activities in museums linked to their basketry collections with the aim of eliciting life histories and social memories, and thus increasing audience engagement. We have found that making and demonstrating craft activities such as basketry are very productive in reminiscence sessions. Yet while artefacts are often employed as important reference points for eliciting social memories, the actual practice of making such artefacts is only now being considered. Secondly, we will draw on the technical benefit of basket-makers working with museum curators to enhance knowledge of early 20th century Scottish basketry collections. Thirdly, we aim to explore the significance of basketry for design thinking. Because basketry is not replicable by machine, many design processes such as planning, problem-solving and innovation are embedded in the practical act of basket-work. This has led us to consider the value of thinking-in-practice and dynamic problem-solving attendant on basketry, as an important aspect of design thinking. In discussion with CraftScotland and the Craft Council, we will develop a paper for informing craft policy on this theme. Finally, the interactive nature of our website has led to us being approached by An Lanntair, Lewis, which has requested we contribute to their bi-lingual (Gaelic/English) dementia project, drawing on our practical basketry skills for eliciting hand-memories with elders with dementia on Lewis

To achieve these aims we will conduct practical reminiscent events focussed around workshops and replica making in each venue. These will range from making Easter straw bonnets, fishing creels and sculls, to Traveller basketry, exploring the whole process from gathering raw materials (such as heather) to finished product, and involving all generations. Through the regionally specific nature of these events, it may even be possible to link artefacts in collections with descendants of former users or producers. We will invite a Masters student from Museum Studies in St Andrews to document and upload the data as part of their dissertation project. We will video record practitioners making key basket forms to further document memories and discussion linked to the events. This will also enable us to extend our capacity for conveying skills, and provide legacy material for use by museums.

Outcomes will include increased public engagement with museum collections, and therefore enhanced impact, as more regional public contribute to knowledge about their own social history through practical engagement. This will lead to new and accessible insights to the social history of collections. Through working with makers, curators will gain improved documentation of collections. There will be greater understanding of the benefits of handwork for working with people with dementia; and of the value of handwork for design thinking through our policy document for craft and design education. Several of our partners have agreed to host study days tailored to their collections, which will further extend impact and public engagement, as will the international symposium which will form the culmination of the project. Several of our partners have also expressed a keen interest in developing a touring exhibition and catalogue following the project. We also aim to produce an illustrated and accessible book as further legacy of the project.

Planned Impact

Through working with our partners, we will have access to and engagement with audiences across Scotland, from the Central Lowlands, the Northern and Western Isles, the Highlands to the east coast. Impact from the project will extend through our public engagement projects beyond museums and galleries to their audiences, substantially increasing access to collections.
1. The practical reminiscence sessions hosted by our partners will enhance public engagement with museum collections and generate new cultural knowledge. Thus, more regional public will learn about their social history through basketry, a fabric of society intimately bound up with their community's past skills and practices. They will also learn more about their local museum collection and its links with other museums at a national level.
2. These activities will develop new contexts for use of the collections through the local histories elicited in interaction with the public. Both 1&2 will enhance audience engagement and attendance.
3. We will develop understanding of and techniques for making significant, but no-longer made basket forms such as sculls, mudags and ciosans, extending this knowledge through our makers to curators, museums and their communities.
4. By updating the new material generated for museums with illustrated records, we will ensure enhancement of museum information and improve curatorial knowledge which will have benefit beyond the life of the project, while at the same time training a student for the future.
5. The NMoRL and Highland Folk Museum have collections from across Scotland. Collaborating on a national project will enhance communication between national and regional museums, developing regional knowledge exchange and enabling organizations to learn more about the extent and connections between their collections.
6. Our document for crafts educational policy on the value of craft practice for memory and design thinking will further extend impact through educational and craft networks.
7. All our partners encourage best use of their collections through public events, including study days and exhibitions. We will enhance impact by running a series of study days and an international symposium. These include one study day at NMoRL, Creating a Reminiscence Space, aimed at craft, educational and social history professionals, including the Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group, Scottish Working People's History Trust, and Social History Curators' Group. A second at the NMoRL, with demonstrations of materials and harvesting, will be open to the wider public. The international symposium, Basketry: Making, Memory, and Mind, at St Andrews will synthesize findings from the whole project, inviting national and international participants, including anthropologists, craft-and design-historians, ethno-botanists, social historians, art students, curators, craft experts, psychologists, policy makers and the general public.
Each event will be advertised widely and open to the public, and we will ensure maximum audiences through the museums' publicity.
8. We also aim to curate a small exhibition of the project. At this stage we cannot commit to this taking place within the timeframe of the project. The National Museum, Shetland Museum and An Lanntair have expressed interest in this.
9. Our interactive website, which we will continue to update during the project, will further extend audiences. All partners will have links to the website.
10. We will produce an illustrated accessible volume, with input from our basket-makers and curatorial partners, on the social history of Scottish communities through baskets.
11. Each museum will have a much stronger, more accessible knowledge base for contextualisation and publicizing its collections to encourage new audiences to engage with them beyond the timespan of the project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Woven Communities is a collaborative research project which began with Dr Bunn, Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, working with the Scottish Basketmakers Circle, regional Scottish museums and other organisations. The initial aim was to research Scottish social history through the lens of its basketwork, as a fabric of society. It began in 2006, received AHRC Connected Communities funding in 2012, and AHRC Follow-On funding in 2016. I (Stephanie Bunn) led the project, working with Scottish basket-makers and with numerous regional museums, art galleries, archives and even botanical gardens across Scotland, in order to learn the diverse ways memory is embedded in hand-skills in Scottish vernacular basket-work. Along with achieving its initial aims, the project has developed into i) using craft practice and artefacts to engaging the public as a new methodology for researching social history and creative cognitive practices; and ii) a study of how and why the very experience of watching and doing basketwork, provides significant impact on the relationship between skill, memory and cognition. This includes the relationships between handskills and memory, handskills and mathematical and creative thinking, and basketry and rehabilitation. Outcomes and impact In the process, we have not only developed a richly textured knowledge and perspective on Scottish social history, we have also: • Worked with basket-makers in museum collections to develop better curatorial and public understanding of collections. . Ie Knowledge exchange March 2016 - December 2016 • Built an interactive website of the project: www.wovencommunities.org which we launched in 2014 and continue to update. This has had a very high number of hits and continues to do so (see Mike Arrowsmith for exact figures) and produced additional research material for our project. Still ongoing Theoretical and applied potential Alongside our research into memory and heritage, we have uncovered significant theoretical and applied potential in our work, revealing how hand skills, learning and memory have application in multiple ways. These range from: • The value of practical hand-skills as a stimulus for reminiscence • The power of skills to generate pleasure and intergenerational communication; • Building on the importance of hand memories for people with dementia; • Developing understanding of the capacity of hand-skills in therapeutic recovery and rehabilitation among both physically injured and psychologically damaged people • Developing understanding of hand-work in design, mathematical and creative thinking Basketry and Recovery in a stroke Unit, Raigmore Hospital, Inverness. working with consultants, basketmakers and stroke patients to explore the role of basketwork in recovery from stroke. 2018 all year
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Continued to work with basket-makers in museum collections to develop better curatorial and public understanding of collections (ie knowledge exchange March -December 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Continued to work with basket-makers in museum collections to develop better curatorial and public understanding of collections (ie knowledge exchange March -December 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Cuimhne, An Lanntair, Lewis from April 21st 2018 Making and mending fishing. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Part of The Unfinsihing of Thing KFI exhibition, Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen May to August 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Exhibition - Woven Communities, a fabric of society 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An in-depth look at the many and various baskets used by fisherfolk, exploring the techniques and materials used to create the specialised shapes and forms.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Exhibition Scottish Fisheries Museum (September to October 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Scottish Fisheries Museum (September to October 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Led practical intergenerational sessions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Led practical intergenerational sessions, developing new skills, material knowledge, and memories with children in schools, through working with contemporary basketry artists and engaging with elders who are communicating basketry's relevance for the past (Shetland, Uist). This research process has been so successful, that we consider we have developed a whole new methodology and approach to gathering research material collaboratively through our methods of public engagement in craft through practice. (September -November 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lewis care homes and Museum, public workshops November 2016 to January 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Lewis care homes and Museum, public workshops November 2016 to January 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2017
 
Description Public workshops: University of Aberdeen Annual Public Festival at Hall of Bedlam (May 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public workshops: University of Aberdeen Annual Public Festival at Hall of Bedlam (May 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Sacred Heart Care Home, South Uist and Trianaid Care Home, North Uist (public engagement events, June and November 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sacred Heart Care Home, South Uist and Trianaid Care Home, North Uist (public engagement events, June and November 2016
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Scottish Basketmakers' Circle Autumn Gathering (public lecture October 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Scottish Basketmakers Circle Autumn Gathering (public lecture October 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Scottish Fisheries Museum (public lecture February 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Scottish Fisheries Museum (public lecture February 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist (Public lecture May 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist (Public lecture May 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Tinkering with Curves. Basketry and Geometry event, Byre Theatre, St Andrews April 16-17 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Anthropology and geometry event, University of Aberdeen, January 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description University of Aarhus Education and Robotics Research group (Public Lecture on basketry, memory and rehabilitation June 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact University of Aarhus Education and Robotics Research group (Public Lecture on basketry, memory and rehabilitation June 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description University of Aberdeen Duncan Rice Library exhibition into uses of Making and Mending People and Baskets: Basketry in Rehabilitation in WW1 in The Unfinishing of Things (April to August 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact University of Aberdeen Duncan Rice Library exhibition into uses of Making and Mending People and Baskets: Basketry in Rehabilitation in WW1 in The Unfinishing of Things (April to August 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description University of Manchester Anthropology and Geometry Research group (Public lecture Forces in Translation, on Basketry and Geometry, April 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact University of Manchester Anthropology and Geometry Research group (Public lecture Forces in Translation, on Basketry and Geometry, April 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description University of Nottingham Trent Department of Design (Public Lecture on skill, creativity and rehabilitation June 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact University of Nottingham Trent Department of Design (Public Lecture on skill, creativity and rehabilitation June 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Used hand skills with elders in care homes 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Used hand skills with elders in care homes to gather their social memories evoked by basketry and net-making sessions (Uist and Lewis). June, November 2016 public engagement
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description We have developed work with a further new partner, the University of Hertfordshire, who approached us last year to participate in their Everyday Lives at War (WW1) project. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have developed work with a further new partner, the University of Hertfordshire, who approached us last year to participate in their Everyday Lives at War (WW1) project. Their concerns matched our own research focus into the therapeutic uses of basketry in rehabilitation and development of cognition. Linked to this, members of the group have worked with the Scottish War Blinded and members of Robert Gordon University to explore the relevance of basketry for rehabilitation. (September-October 2016, March-September 2017)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
 
Description Worked practically with museums through 'Skills Gatherings' sessions 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Worked practically with museums through 'Skills Gatherings' sessions to uncover the lost skills and intangible cultural heritage embedded in artefacts in their collections (Scottish Fisheries Museum) October 2016 knowledge exchange, public engagement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Working with the public across Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Working with the public across Scotland (including reminiscence workshops with Traveller groups August 2016, the SWRI July 2016, retired fishermen August 2016 etc); through practical workshops ie knowledge exchange and public engagement (July - September 2016) demonstrations, and heritage actions days (August 2016) to gather new memories and information about Scottish basketry heritage and its place in Scottish social life.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Woven Communities 2 Symposium 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 3 day symposium
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Woven Communities Symposium (2) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Woven Communities Symposium (2) (January 2017 themes include Memory and Materials, Basketry and Maths, Rehabilitation, Creativity and Innovation)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description basketry and rehabilitation and hand-work with people with dementia 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have built on past work with the KFI research group (University of Aberdeen) to conduct elements of our research into basketry and rehabilitation and hand-work with people with dementia on Uist and this work will continue into 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description built links with the University of Aarhus educational research centre 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 4. We have also built links with the University of Aarhus educational research centre, visiting them twice and leading a symposium as a keynote speaker to develop a common interest in weaving and robotics. Papers given December 2015, June 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description explore the structural and mathematical significance of the movements and forms in basketwork and related crafts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We have developed links with the University Department of Architecture Geometry and Maths groups to explore the structural and mathematical significance of the movements and forms in basketwork and related crafts. April 2017 Paper given
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description intergenerational workshops with elders and museum professionals 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact all the schools involved in the project (intergenerational workshops with elders and museum professionals, September to November 2016);
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016