Basket Cases


Bob Gleason first learned to weave when he took a class, many years ago. He started again when the need arose to find a way to relax after a stressful workday. He ordered a weaving kit and began a hobby that has mushroomed into a creative outlet with plans for more and larger projects.

Bob Gleason first learned to weave when he took a class, many years ago. He started again when the need arose to find a way to relax after a stressful workday. He ordered a weaving kit and began a hobby that has mushroomed into a creative outlet with plans for more and larger projects. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Baskets come in any size, shape or color, depending on your need.

People are weavers, some of baskets. By using the reeds, canes, and bases one constructs a basket, or a bowl, or a tray or a box. Some of us are weavers and some not so much.

But first, this.

I first met Bob Gleason at a First Friday, August I believe. He was at the Down the Street Gallery, on the porch, weaving a basket. I rushed past him on the way in and didn’t take much notice. As usual, my mind was fixed on getting this shot or that shot and seeing who was in and who wasn’t. In ‘shoot this, shoot that’ mode, one isn’t always aware of the obvious good opportunity one passes on the porch. One is focused on preconceived notions, ideas, editor wants, or space available areas, be they vertical or horizontal.

I went inside, chatted, munched, looked for some group co-mingling or a stand out shot of opportunity. Didn’t see it. Took a few quick shots of laughter and pointing, and then dropped my ‘shoot’ face, ‘shoot mind’, whatever and relaxed and felt my day was done, I’d got the required images and I could go now.

Out on the porch, Gleason was still weaving, still talking and having a good time. I didn’t listen to what he was saying, but the manner of speech was unmistakable. He was enthused, he had a feeling for his pastime, his relaxation, so to speak. He was weaving at a steady, confident and measured pace while he chatted.

I introduced myself and asked if I could shoot him while he talked. No problem. I took a few shots, got what I thought were a few good angles and asked him if he would be interested in being interviewed sometime.

“Sure, why not?” He said off-handedly.

He probably thought nothing would come of it. Ha. I took his card and left.

The following Tuesday at my work desk I pulled his card out of my shirt pocket, looked at his information and visited his website. Nice photos, nice baskets. I liked his work.

Sent Gleason an email and let him know of my visit and that I would be in touch. Weeks passed, many things happened, some unexpected and shocking, and I forgot about getting in touch with Bob.

So, I’m going about my usual shooting assignments and run into Bob at the Pine Labor Day Arts and Craft Show. I throw a few excuses at him. He ignores them, but we come to a firm date where I’ll sit down and interview him about his professional life, how he got into basket weaving and how life is in general.

My idea of writing and shooting these articles isn’t the usual approach, at least that’s my focus and intent. This is another opportunity to put that into motion and see where it goes.

At the next editorial meeting, I bring Gleason up as my next subject. Ah, writers, they can be as sharp as their pens when they speak.

Pete opens up and jabs me with the excitement of shooting a basket weaver; sort of like watching paint dry he says. “Can’t you think of something with ‘action’ in it?” he asks.

Yeah, I mention Gleason has another side to him. Tom moves the meeting along and Pete rolls his eyes at me, one more time for good measure.

Gleason has the 9/11 Saturday at Down the Street Gallery as host. A perfect time to interview, chat, shoot, have coffee and take a few notes. Thinking it is going to be a quiet day with few interruptions, we begin. Sure.

The day explodes with visitors and that’s fine. One must roll with events one cannot control. But as people come and go, we chat, I scribble and take some shots. I find out Gleason has many sides to his personality and his approach to weaving.

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Gleason explains that the thickness of the reeds can change the lip of a basket pattern from large and wide to small and narrow.

By profession, he manages work flow and scheduling of employees, mostly nurses, of contracted hospitals through a large company specializing in IT (Information Technology) solutions. At this point in the game, he has the experience, knowledge and ability to do much of his work from his home. He does travel occasionally, but not as much as he used to.

Living in Arizona for such work has its advantages. Many of the contracted hospitals are on the East Coast. This means Gleason’s work day starts early and ends early, most of the time.

Gleason has a Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing and gravitated to the software field by interest and necessity. Interest because of the challenge; Gleason is a problem solver by nature. Figuring out how to fit people into a work schedule can be one of the most challenging situations one encounters in the work place.

It’s like trying to juggle jumping beans; you know, those out of balance, out of round beans that wiggle when they should wobble. Necessity because he needed the work scheduling translated into software and as the most skilled person for the job, he fit right in.

Doing this type of work can be a hair pulling experience. This is where one needs down time to relax and get away from the stress of work. Gleason has friends with high pressure jobs too. He noticed they draw, or do bead work or some other activity that is completely different than their work environment. One of them mentioned it is a good way to keep sane.

Having taken weaving classes many years ago, he thought he might try it again. With great success, as can be seen in his work.

At first glance, one might think an IT solutions specialist has an odd hobby, or craft as a sideline. But, if this activity brings one peace, takes you away from a stressful environment, is creative, gives a reward to the doer and those who appreciate the result of the activity, ah, that is not odd, that is using energy in a meaningful and positive direction.

Bob Gleason has accomplished this and weaves many creative and pleasing forms that are not just baskets, but works of art. He has gone beyond being a weaver of baskets, into another realm.

The more we talked about weaving, baskets, bowls, trays and other forms, the more intense Gleason became. The importance of color, shape, thickness of reeds and size of a project are all factors in bringing the elements together to a pleasing and functional piece.

Has he had failures? Yes. One project got started and didn’t feel like it was going right. He took it apart and began again. This time, weaving in the opposite direction the basket worked.

As he continues weaving Gleason wants to realize larger and more ambitious projects. When he can’t find the right color, he dyes the reed himself. His usual sessions last two or three hours at a time. Some times with music, other times in silence, it greatly depends on his mind set when he begins.

One wonders what compels a person to weave baskets and other forms. Is it the satisfaction of completing a task that offers up a hand made item? The relaxation of a seemingly simple task, compared to the complex nature of working with software and schedules that need to work. I didn’t ask, I didn’t venture there.

Time, once again, to move on, another assignment was begging itself into my schedule.

There is much conversation in Down the Street Gallery between Gleason and I waiting to be continued. I have thought about weaving, but not baskets or bowls or trays. It brought me to a different place. It brought me to a place of questions. What is my base, my canes and my reeds and how have I woven them? Is my basket tight, sturdy and symmetrical? Or has it been loose, a hodge-pudge of color, with sagging sides and of weak construction?

I don’t have an answer. I do have a statement though: It ain’t over yet. Life isn’t one basket, our lives are a series of woven experiences and as we grow in knowledge we learn how to weave a life that brings us fulfillment.

So weave your life basket. Make it a work of art, like Bob Gleason, something worth remembering.

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