Wednesday, July 11, 2012
When Bill Haley was laid off from his job at a local factory just before Christmas in 1985, he still managed to present a gift to everyone on his list. Now more than 25 years later, shoppers at the Signal Mountain Farmers Market often seek him out for the baskets he learned to make so he could give everyone on his list that year a gift.
“I didn’t have a speck of money to buy Christmas presents,” said Haley, who instead found a how-to article in McCall’s Magazine on making honeysuckle baskets. “I ended up giving everyone a basket for Christmas that year.”
He said he enjoyed the process of foraging through his own as well as neighbors’ yards for material.
“It never occurred to me you could go out and just find all the material you need to make a basket,” said Haley.
He said many people say they purchase his baskets because they feel they are representative of the city.
“It’s a true product of Chattanooga, because it grew right here in Chattanooga,” said Haley.
Materials he uses often include kudzu, honeysuckle, privet hedge and English ivy.
“I use a lot of stuff people try to get out of their backyards and can’t ever get rid of,” said Haley.
Each year for the past eight years, Haley has thought of a name and theme for that year’s series of baskets. “Hill City” is this year’s theme, but he considers his favorite to be his “Alien Invaders” series made using materials from invasive species.
“He uses stuff that is really kind of junk and turns it into something beautiful,” said Alison Hoffman, manager of the Signal Mountain Farmers Market as to why she invited him to be a vendor. “Lots of people make jewelry, but not many people can take an invasive vine and make a beautiful basket out of it.”
Haley’s baskets vary widely in shape and style, ranging in price from $20 to $80. While the baskets are free to produce, Haley said he invests at least five to seven hours of his time to complete a small basket, with larger baskets taking even longer.
“It’s really interesting to watch him make the baskets, which he does while he’s [at the market],” said Hoffman.
Haley said he has sold several thousand baskets in total and weaves an average of 80 to 120 baskets each year.
“It’s labor- and time-intensive,” said Haley, who has already woven around 40 so far this year. “Since I just do it as a hobby, I can’t turn out a truckload overnight.”
He said he used to add color to his baskets with natural dyes, but customers told him the color eventually faded. He now uses materials in different colors and textures, such as different varieties of kudzu, to create lasting patterns in his work.