Tamara Wight weaves nests from found objects
Many artistic endeavors start in a studio, but basket-weaver Tamara Wight begins her creative process outdoors. On walks through the forest and along Sunset Lake in Brookfield, Vt., her home town, Wight gathers rocks, pebbles and interesting pieces of wood.
She takes these ingredients home and holds onto them until she has a moment of creative inspiration, usually during the night. Then, the rocks and branches become the foundation for her baskets, many of which are on display at Creative Space Gallery in Vergennes.
“I like to think that my work grows out of the things I find,” Wight said. “Even when I drill the holes and put the spokes in, it seems organic to me.”
Wight, 73, has been making baskets for more than 35 years, but after a while, she grew bored of the symmetry and sameness of the style. That’s when Studio Place Arts in Barre, put out a call to craftspeople: “Can you turn your craft into art?”
She got to work on a large, double-sided, asymmetrical basket.
“It had every unusual thing I could think of to put in it. Even marbles, inside the bottom,” she said. “That was the first piece of sculptural basketry I did, and I loved it.”
Now, Wight’s portfolio has expanded to include an array of unusual basketry, including wall baskets, which are usually small and hang from a branch like a mobile, often alongside stones or other interesting items. In larger pieces, she also uses grasses, roots, Lily and Iris leaves and feathers.
Among her favorite creations are nature-inspired nests. They start as small baskets that she fills with fluffy wool, egg-shaped stones and other keepsakes from her forest and lake walks. Fans of her work sometimes say they wish they could curl up inside the cozy-looking pieces.
“I don’t know why, but making a small nest is very satisfying to me. I do them periodically — I just need to do a nest once in a while,” she said. “They feed me.”
Each nest has a unique name. One is called “Marsh Nest,” another is simply “Nesting,” and one is “Empty Nest.” The latter is a physical representation of Wight’s life at the time she made it.
“Yeah. My kids left home,” she said. “I love naming the nests. Often, I know the name before I do the piece.”
Wight has been a member of the Little City’s Creative Space Gallery since it first opened in 2009. Eloise Beil, one of the gallery’s founding artists, is the owner of one of Wight’s nests. She most appreciates how Wight’s work expresses the natural materials she uses.
“The thing about Tamara’s nests is that she works in partnership with the materials,” Beil said. “The materials suggest something, and then she responds and enhances that to create something. At the moment we have one nest that has red dyed reeds and woven pieces of what appear to be denim. They are so evocative. The spindles of her baskets have an undulating shape because of the way the basket is woven following the contours of the piece of driftwood [that is used as the base]. She takes you to all kinds of different places with these baskets.”
For most of her life, Wight considered herself an “artist on the side.” She grew up playing on the banks of the Ohio River and attended Ohio University, where she studied education. She later taught kindergarten, which didn’t have a formal curriculum, allowing her to be creative with what she taught the kids.
Later, she moved to West Hartford, Conn., where she had two kids. There, she discovered a love of weaving with yarn, which soon morphed into a love of basketry. Baskets were easier to put down mid-project and come back to later — better suited for a busy mom.
“I think there was something about the rhythm of it that really attracted me,” she said. “It’s a soothing rhythm to weave a basket.”
When her husband, Gregory Wight, wanted to teach engineering at Norwich University, the family moved and embraced rural Vermont living. (With his engineering background, Gregory often helps Wight with the more technical parts of her basket-making.) Wight had another child, and later, as the couple’s children started to move away to college, Wight decided to go back to school. She got her Master’s degree in psychology at Antioch University in Keene, N.H., and worked in schools, consulting with special educators and counseling students individually.
It wasn’t until Wight’s retirement, in 2001, that she began to truly consider herself an artist. With a studio in the historic Gray Building in Northfield, she continues to pursue basketry in the form of sculpture.
“It’s been a really great thing,” she said. “Something I’ve always wanted.”
Wight’s work is currently on display and for sale at the Creative Space Gallery. Works range from $50 to $500, and more of her pieces can be viewed at tamarawight.com.
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