By Linda Dillman
The Canal Winchester home of Theresa Atkins is filled with creativity – from the
handmade wind chimes and fountain adorning her backyard to her home workshop where she creates in fabric, wood and fiber.
Her art honors her Native American heritage with images carved into wood and gourds and weaved throughout pine needle baskets.
“I first became interested in carving while on vacation in Arizona when I saw a magazine on hand carving woodland spirits on pencils,” said Atkins. “I knew then I wanted to be able to do that. Several years ago, I started making gourd bowls and birdhouses. Many of the embellishments on the gourd bowls that I have seen used pine needles. After much research, I discovered pine needle basketry and I have made several small baskets.”
Atkins said her biological father was a talented Native American and she remembers watching him create things.
“I think this influenced me very much. His love of nature has carried over to me in the way I look at the earth, art and life,” she said.
Her Native American/Irish heritage also attracts her to certain types of designs and colors
“I believe that everyone, whether they realize it or not, is drawn to what is in their DNA,” she said.
When starting a new carving, Atkins said the first thing she thinks about is the recipient and their lifestyle—do they like things to display or do they enjoy more usable items? Once that is determined, she selects the wood type and the carving, such as a wooden spoon for a cook, a shawl pin for a friend that knits, or something spiritual or of special interest.
Depending on the design, it can take a month or more to complete a project.
“Because I am a fairly new carver, I try to stay with the softer woods, but have carved with walnut, ash, cherry and mahogany,” said Atkins. “I use bass wood for a lot of thing due to its softness. Shawl pins need to be from harder wood such as cherry, walnut or mahogany so they do not break easily.”
Most of the wood she uses is purchased. However, two of the shawl pins she carved were made from cherry wood that her adopted father had in his workshop.
“One of the shawl pins is for my sister that was made from that wood and one for me,” said Atkins. “It just makes them more special because they are from the wood that was in our father’s workshop.”
Pine needle basketry is an art form that uses long pine needles coiled into shape to make baskets. They can be adorned with many different items such as feathers or walnut slices and have a strong and special history in America.
“Native Americans were among the first to use the coil pine needle basket technique and are still known for their skill at making longleaf pine needle baskets and trays,” said Atkins. “The weaving of the baskets is very time consuming. You can purchase processed pine needles online or gather them from the forest floor. Longleaf or Ponderosa pines have the best needles for weaving. A small piece of copper tubing is used to run the needles through to keep them together while stitching/coiling.”
It can take several weeks to several months to weave a basket depending on the size.
While Atkins does not sell her artwork, the majority of her carvings and weavings become gifts for family and friends. She also carves horse items for a Helping Hooves auction in Kingman, Ariz., in support of their program.