De Sailles makes compelling case for baskets

Resident artist Lissa De Sailles with some of her work at Fern Street Gallery in Gerringong.

Resident artist Lissa De Sailles with some of her work at Fern Street Gallery in Gerringong.

History, mental health and sustainability are interwoven in artist Lissa De Sailles work - although the basket-maker is quick to point out that basket-making does not always involve weaving.

The Nowra artist has been mad for baskets since receiving a prestigious grant to study under local legend Jim Wallace in 2012.

And her mind is as nimble as her fingers.

"Basketry has been stigmatised," she said.

"Phrases like 'basket-case' - and it's belittling - is because people suffering war trauma post WWI and WWII were given occupational therapy, which included basket weaving. So if someone had war nerves, they were called a basket case."

Therapy for traumatised soldiers is a snapshot in the history of the craft.

Most cultures have a traditional method for making baskets - before the rise of plastics and ubiquitous Tupperware, containers had to be home-made.

I was one of these kids with a lot of energy - I was a bit of a handful

Ms De Sailles said colonisation disrupted the tradition of basket-making in Australia, as many Industrial Revolution-era Europeans lost their connection to traditional crafts and materials, and colonial forces worked to eradicate Aboriginal Australian cultural practices.

Since her initial foray into basket-making in 2012, she has traveled to Ireland and the US to explore different traditions.

"I applied for a travelling scholarship to go to Ireland and study with Joe Hogan," she said.

"He'd done a lot of research on traditional Irish basketry, and because I've got Irish ancestors I thought it would be a good starting point overseas."

It's worth noting that basket-making skills don't always go towards making baskets. Skillful weaving can create sculptures, lamp shades and other home decor.

Ms De Sailles often works with recycled or home-grown materials to create sustainable, functional, works of art.

And despite the stigmatisation of basket-making, she's confident about its potential to heal some of the social ills of our time.

"I was one of these kids with a lot of energy and I was a bit of a handful," she said.

"That creative energy was channeled into learning [crafts].

"I've enrolled in a Masters in Health and Social Wellbeing, and I want to connect that to art as integral part of our lives."

Her upcoming exhibition at Spiral Gallery in Bega features upcycled materials and explores ideas about sustainability and imagination.

The exhibition will run from December 27 - January 21.

In the meantime, Ms De Sailles is also a resident artist at Fern Street Gallery in Gerringong, and exhibits there monthly.

She said she intends to continue her work for as long as she is able.

"I want to get to the point where I can write a book," she said.

"It's a playground that I'm going to be in for the rest of my life, as long as my little hands keep working."