Traditionalist, yet innovator
Clay Burnette made his own path into the Carolina woods in search of ubiquitous pine needles and emerged with national recognition, awarded him over the four decades during which he has coiled distinctive baskets that are more sculpture than utilitarian.
Basket making represents his traditional side. The innovation is in the unmatched design.
Employing long-leaf pine needles, the longer the better, he allows his baskets to slump into contemporary, rather abstract formations following a technique he developed when he could find little in craft instruction books to help actualize his vision for coiling.
The contrasts continue. His basket making draws from opposite ends of the Carolinas. In the Blue Ridge Mountains that range into Mr. Burnette’s native Georgia, the craft is legendary. The South Carolina Lowcountry has its own basket traditions, blending pine needles with sweet grass, in keeping with Gullah Geechee artisan traditions. His differ dramatically from those models.
Over the decades Mr. Burnette has experimented with natural dyes and even paints to augment the pine needles’ color. Although natural linen thread has been his choice for sewing the needles into their structure, he has used copper at times – and even telephone wire, strung with beads and natural stones, to enhance the aesthetic and durability of his baskets.
His work has been invited into prestigious collections, from the White House to the Columbia Museum of Art. He is frequently asked to teach at revered art centers, such as Arrowmont Arts & Crafts Center in Gatlinburg, TN.
To see more of his work, visit clayburnette.com.
Story written by Rachel Haynie