Blog #9
Feb. 1, 2021

By Emily Stehle

COVID-19 has been on the brain lately. We’re constantly watching the news for the latest information. We call the Florida vaccine number every time we’re told “they” will be scheduling appointments and have gone online to check three websites. We’re starting up to an hour earlier than the appointed time, but we still can’t get a vaccine appointment.

So it’s been somewhat shocking to see that I’m creating my own version of the COVID-19 virus, or a replica of it, in my own home. Unintentionally.

I’ve completed 26 of the 41 COVID comfort baskets. Numbered them and embellished them with plastic Oriental Trading pony beads and waxed linen. I hadn’t clipped the tails. I thought they looked “gnarly.” Then I looked it up in a dictionary to see if that was the right word.

Something gnarly is twisted, knotty, or bent, like the gnarly branches of an old apple tree or the gnarly fingers of an elderly person. “Gnarled and knotted” is the original meaning of this adjective from the Middle English knar, “knob, knot or mass.” Confusingly, though, it’s just as commonly used in two other (completely opposite) ways, to mean both “difficult” and “wonderful.

Six COVID-19 comfort baskets: Do they remind you of something?

Now looking at this photo of six baskets I see something odd. Do you see it? The resemblance to the image you’ve seen on the news that represents the virus? A round (or somewhat round ball) with spikes.

Two friends happened to come by and both (masks on) examined the baskets,  Should I cut off the tails, I asked. They both said, “No.” They liked the organic, unfinished, wild, “gnarly” look as I did.

“Artsy-fartsy” as my sister Tina would say. The baskets will be gnarly and artsy-fartsy. Good. I had dreaded the thought cutting off all the tails.

NBO Presents: Remembering Dorothy Gill Barnes

A photo of Dorothy Gill Barnes in her studio

It is with sadness that we have lost many to this pandemic. Dorothy Gill Barnes, 93, an internationally recognized innovative fiber artist, basketmaker and sculptor passed away from COVID-19 on  Nov. 23.  The National Basketry Organization, (NBO), memorialized her  last Friday in a Zoom meeting.

I did not know Dorothy but knew her distinctive organic work made with natural materials, specifically tree bark, branches, roots, wood and stone. Unique and unusual, I recognized them immediately in museum exhibits* and in countless basketry books. Dorothy was an art educator with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa  inspired by white oak basketmaker Dwight Stump.

The foundation of her 60-year career as an artist, according to friends, was “based on wonder, experiential learning and a creative collaboration with nature.”


Dorothy was a “respectful” gatherer,  harvesting and collecting natural materials from all over her home state of Ohio and where ever she traveled. She  took only trees that were slated for thinning or removal.

Book for “From The Woods,” an exhibit hosted by the Ohio Craft Museum, 1995




My friend Jill’s very first basketry class happened to be taught by Dorothy.
“We followed her into the woods and she stripped the bark off a tree,” said Jill. “It was amazing. And she made a basket out of that tree for our class. I will never forget that.”

“Penland Poplar” basket made by Dorothy in Jill’s workshop




I regret that I didn’t get to meet Dorothy Gill Barnes. I would have loved to ask her how she developed her practice and about harvesting “stuff.”

What an inspiration! And what a loss to basketmakers who’ve never make a basket from materials not from a catalog or kit.


*Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Museum, and in NBO’s traveling exhibit Rooted Revived Reinvented: Basketry in America



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