Artist creates unusual baskets with other people's castoffs
by Jim McCarty
unusual baskets from recycled wire brings great joy to West Plains
artist Kitty Chrysalis.
Taking a walk
one day, Kitty Chrysalis spots a discarded piece of copper wire on the
ground. Love it! she says, excitement apparent in her voice.
Ill take that home.
To most people
that little scrap of wire is just so much debris, another cast-off remnant
of a wasteful society. To Kitty its a treasure, destined to be a
work of art when her minds eye finds a use for it and the
barn full of other wire scraps she has accumulated.
just love me because I get so excited, says Kitty, a member of Howell-Oregon
Electric Cooperative. If I wasnt taking their scraps they
would get burned off and the toxins would go in the air. I dont
What Kitty does
with the wire is unusual. Once she trained to make traditional baskets.
Today she makes baskets using wire. Sometimes the wire is bare copper,
sometimes aluminum. Sometimes the muse seizes her and she creates colorful
works of art using the tiny wire inside telephone cables.
Bob Patrick, an
artist who was once her neighbor in the community of Moody, taught her
to make baskets in 1976. He recalls that she was a good student but her
work lacked originality.
did a better job than I did on her baskets, he says. But she
was rigid in her work. Everything was very symmetrical and tight, very
His advice: Make
work that is intentionally asymmetrical. Thats exactly what she
did. In fact she calls one art form her scribble baskets.
She says these free-form containers hearken to the time before children
are taught to color in the lines.
Kitty never made
the traditional split oak baskets so common in her part of the Missouri
Ozarks, just a stones throw from the Arkansas line. Those early
efforts used honeysuckle vines which grew wild on her 7 acres south of
Soon she was experimenting
with other materials. At the dump she found scrap leather from a shoe
factory and experimented with it. She tried yarn, sea grass, cattails.
Then she tried dyeing stiff paper and weaving it like others would oak
strips. She used different techniques, but finally came to what she calls
a resting point. There were several years when I didnt weave.
At this time she
inherited a pile of scrap wire from a friend. One day while mowing around
the pile she had an epiphany. Why not weave wire?
gave her a piece of telephone cable. Inside she found hundreds of tiny,
brightly colored pieces of wire. Her work took on new meaning as she quickly
discovered the potential of the new material.
Unlike the organic
forms she used before, the wire kept its shape. She discovered new textures,
new techniques to deal with the stiff material and endless possibilities
from combining bare copper with plastic coated phone wire or adding tiny
knew what medium I would settle on, Kitty recalls. Its
just like true love it just happens now and then.
Before long, friends
began bringing her bags of wire. Sometimes she leaves her day job at the
West Plains hospital and finds new offerings sitting on her car hood.
She never turns down a piece of wire, knowing eventually she will find
a use for it.
Even though she
uses unconventional material, the techniques are the same ones traditional
basketmakers use. What makes her baskets even more unusual is that Kitty
combines many basketmaking techniques into the same piece.
For example, a
basket might start with traditional coil construction, then branch out
into twining for an open look. From time to time Kitty must invent new
techniques to deal with the medium she has discovered.
She has a small
anvil that lets her flatten wire ends, or shape them into free-form scrolls.
Often, these little touches become the focal point of a piece.
Kitty only does
three or four major pieces a year. She prefers to design her art for individuals
rather than make them and wait for a buyer. She starts by asking a lot
of questions, like what does the person enjoy doing, whats important
to them. She asks for small items that are meaningful to the person and
incorporates them into the basket.
Once a cardiologist
brought Kitty a bag of wire he took from his childhood train set. Kitty
wove it into a marble run using blue and red wire. Look at it closely
and you will find the semblance of a human heart, with four chambers.
is a dragon that began with a turkey bone a friend gave Kitty, challenging
her to find a use for it.
Her work has a
certain natural flow. Kitty says this helps her express community, friendship
and environmental awareness, themes that are important to her.
to be a certain amount of cosmic serendipity going on here, Kitty
says of her work. I seem to get to the end of the wire about where
I need to. Sometimes there is no trimming at all. Kitty says she
doesnt want to generate any waste.
her baskets because of the joy they provide. I have been given a
gift to make objects that are beautiful and unusual, and I feel honored
to bring them into the world. They are my attempt to turn refuse into
something of beauty. I hope that my baskets bring as much joy to others
as their creation has provided me.
You can contact
Kitty at (417) 284-7483 or 4204 State Rt. 142, West Plains, MO 65775.