Joanna Schanz

Amana basket maker
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Basket by Joanna SchanzIn 1977, Joanna Schanz apprenticed with Philip Dickel to learn the art of willow basket making and the cultivation of willow patches. Dickel (1900-1981), the last active basket maker of the Amana Colonies who learned his craft before the change in 1932, guided Schanz in the revival of this endangered traditional art form. Schanz, who married into the Amana community, has spent years perfecting her craft.

When the Amana Colony people journeyed from the Germanic States to Ebenezer, N.Y., and then (in 1854) to Iowa, they brought with them the willows for their baskets. These were not the types that grow wild along waterways, but a cultured variety. Willow fields were one-eight to one-quarter of an acre with rows about three feet apart. Fields were cultivated just to keep the weeds down. Willows were harvested each year after a frost, and stored until needed.

Each village had a head basket maker and as many helpers as needed to make the necessary baskets. The trade was not necessarily handed down from father to son or mother to daughter; church elders assigned the basket maker his helpers. There were laundry baskets, sewing baskets, garden baskets, baskets in which to carry meals home from the community kitchens if someone was ill, and many others. Most popular sizes were the bushel and half-bushel. Baskets were copied from old baskets, or in some cases patterns were made up.

Today, Schanz and others are carrying on this traditional Amana craft via classes, apprenticeships, and special programs. Baskets are available for purchase at the Broom and Basket Shops in the Amana Colonies and at the Amana Arts Guild.

Contact: Joanna Schanz, 319.622.3315, Broom & Basket Shop, 618 8th Ave., West Amana, IA 52203, www.jeonet.com/amanas/artisans