From pioneer times until well into the Twentieth Century, various folks arts were practiced in Itawamba County. Every type of medium from pottery, quilting and weaving to basket making and wood carving was practiced.
One type of folk art that was prevalent in Itawamba County was the art of basket making. For the most part, Itawamba County baskets were made of white oak and were of a utilitarian nature. All types of baskets were created. There were baskets for eggs, baskets for gathering vegetables and baskets for cotton.
Baskets were usually made on the farm during the winter months when the growing season had ended. The farm family members would usually go into the woods and find a good straight white oak sapling of about ten inches in diameter. The log would be cut into about 6 foot sections and the section logs would be cut into about sixteen “pie pieces.” The white oak strips would be pulled off the “pie pieces" along the age rings. Usually the heartwood would be used to make the basket handles.
Baskets would be woven to suit the needs of the family and younger family members were taught the art of basket weaving as soon as they were old enough to learn the process.
White oak was also used to “cane” chair seats as well. The straight ladder-back chairs most all had white oak caning in Itawamba County.
During my youth I would visit an elderly basket weaver who lived on a ridge not far from my home. I would sit and watch him work at his craft and would listen to him tell of the basket making process. He told me he had learned the craft from his elders and his elders had learned the process from their elders. The gray-haired man made all types of baskets and also re-caned folks’ chairs for them as well. With his death several years ago, the old folk craft of white oak basket making has all but died in the hills of Itawamba County.
I am fortunate to have two of his white oak baskets today, and I cherish them as a utilitarian folk art from Itawamba County's days gone by.
Itawamba white oak basket and white oak tree photographs by Bob Franks