Nov. 20, 2020
By Emily Stehle
About me: I’m retired from a “real” job. I make baskets. Play ukulele. Volunteer for the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society. Teach ukulele; I’m on the TBUS board. Not necessarily in that order.
I have to admit: I’m bad. Ever since lockdown started Sunday, March 15, 2020, I’ve been very distracted and unable to concentrate on my basketry craft.
My ukulele trio (Three Happy Ukers with my husband Mike and good friend Katherine Campbell) had decided a last hurrah was necessary that day: Dim Sum at one of our favorite restaurants, Ha Long Bay in Dunedin. We would celebrate our good times and the opening of Florida CraftArt’s Contemporary Fiber exhibit where two of my pieces had been accepted. We felt sad about three cancelled gigs we had scheduled months earlier. And the monthly jams I led at the Safety Harbor library were cancelled as well.
My other group, Ukers for Life, is a volunteer band that plays weekly for hospice patients at bedside and every two weeks in the Shriners Hospital for Children lobby. That same week, we were also shut out from visiting those facilities.
We all hoped that lockdown would not last long. We hoped that everything would be okay soon.
STUCK AT HOME…GET THINGS DONE?
We’ve stayed home only going out for food shopping every 10-14 days, going to the post office or the bank.
At first, I welcomed the free time; I would organize my ever-growing piles of recycled weaving supplies, do tons of weaving and sewing beads on baskets that needed that “little bit extra,” play my ukulele and get the nerve and energy up to prepare and apply for that Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist grant for the fourth (!) go-round in September.
Instead, in just three weeks, I found life overwhelming, yet underwhelming. I had so much to do, so much to put away. But I was comforted being surrounded by “my stuff” that helps define my creative self. Maybe leaving it out would inspire me to weave.
But there were no deadlines. No keeping track of days. Listless…I binge-watched Netflix, Amazon Prime. Don’t ask me what I watched ‘cause I barely remember. A few series on Netflix: The White Queen, The White Princess, The Spanish Princess (Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII). Mike and I alternated cooking great dinners and enjoyed our comfort foods.
In April, my little sister Tina, who gave me my first ukulele almost five years ago, asked me do a Facebook project. It was Uke Phenom Cynthia Lin’s 100 Day Ukulele Song Challenge where you would videotape yourself performing 100 songs. So I joined and two days later, Mike did, too.
Tina is a great little sister; she bought us stuff we wouldn’t necessarily buy that proved useful in our challenge: An iPad holder and then a ring light/stand for our camera phone. I can honestly say 100 Days helped us through the early months of Covid-19.
Tina and I spoke on the phone or messaged each other almost every day (to talk about our music choices, equipment, lighting, our clothing, makeup). All three of us finished our 100 Days and through that project we learned how to perform (better!) solo and take halfway decent videos (still learning). I made friends with several people in the CL Facebook group.
The 100 Days project was a comfort and a healing time for me. We all know music is healing so practicing my ukulele and singing every day for usually 1-3 hours was a balm for nervous, unsettling times. Three of my friends (whom I had met through ukulele pre-lockdown/stay-at-home) contracted Covid-19. They are slowly on their way to recovery.
100 Days gave me a focus and sense of purpose. It was also fun. In retrospect, my ukulele activity was a great distraction but it was time – and I was ready – to focus on my basketry craft and write that grant application.
And just at this time Katherine would decide it was a good time for her to join her adult son, Michael, in Palm Springs. Isolation and lockdown made it more pressing for her to be near family.
So, at the end of seven months, we found ourselves still safe, a little more lonely, but grateful for the extraordinary closeness experienced (via phone, Facebook and texts) with my sister Tina, Katherine, my friends before Covid-19 and my new uke friends, who lived throughout the U.S. and other countries. Although miles apart, technology helped us stay together in spirit.
Then Creative Pinellas awarded me an Emerging Artist grant for $2,000. I’m very proud to be among this group of talented, creative visual artists, writers, poets and performance artists. Yes, I’m finally getting used to be called an artist. I invite you to read our blogs. You’ll see how different, yet alike, we are. We belong here!
NINE MONTHS LATER: GETTING BACK TO WORK Time to Make Baskets
My “portfolio” of baskets I’ve made over 30 years is all over the place! It makes sense because I took classes with instructors who had kits, learned specific techniques from books or handouts from “teachers” and friends. Formal and informal teaching…
During this time of Covid-19, when we were and still are home almost 24/7, I thought more about my baskets and how they were made. I would catch myself admiring them as they are all over my house. How diverse they were…which ones were my favorites? And why?
So, here’s a quick review of some of my earlier, original work.
SOME FAVORITE OLD BASKETS
- My favorite baskets were those that I made on my own. Not necessarily through a kit or workshop.
- I tend(ed) to gravitate to blue-green colors.
- I think about a basket for while (might take one day or up to six months) and only start weaving when I can visualize part of it (color or shape) or all of it in my mind.
- Once I start weaving a “project,” I don’t stop. I usually finish it as quickly as possible. Embellishments, like beads, or my concept of beads, might take longer than the weaving itself.
What is my story? Why do I make baskets? What shapes?
Utilitarian? Contemporary art?
What do I hope to accomplish?
Will the past nine months influence my Emerging Artist project? You know the answer is a resounding “YES!”
I’ll talk about that next week.