Story and photos by Stacy Fisher –
Crafter Linda Vanella relishes creating decorative pine needle baskets with mixed materials that can be mounted on the wall or laid out on a coffee table as a conversation piece.
She says that experimenting with new ways of weaving her baskets using wood or colored glass as a base, many of which depict drawings of various natural scenes or animals, along with the use of a variety of beads, leather, walnut shells, colored threads and anything else that attracts her from the natural world, “provides me with great enjoyment.”
Vanella explains that pine needle baskets were first done by tribes in most of the territories that today make up the United States, often using sinew as thread.
“Indigenous peoples made their baskets for mostly practical reasons” like carrying food including acorns or even fish. Vanella’s baskets are primarily created as decorative objects, but she can weave a few that have curved sides for everyday uses too.
She and her husband live in Orland, a small community in Glenn County, less than 20 miles west of the town of Chico.
They also own a cabin in Prattville, located in Plumas County near the shore of Lake Almanor, where she stays when she’s working at Blue Goose Gallery of Artists in Chester, a co-op that specializes in displaying fine art and craftwork for sale by artists living throughout the wider region of the North State.
At the gallery she’s one of the individuals that comprise the co-op’s 34 members. Members who work at the gallery receive a percentage of the sales of their artwork, which varies depending on the number of hours they’re on duty, with the remaining percentage going to the operation and cost of maintaining the non-profit organization.
Her process begins with pine needles gathered locally in Plumas County, and she then adds embellishments that are collected from locations she and her husband have traveled to from around the country.
She challenges herself to always “see what new basket designs I can come up with and what variety of accessories I can add to make it the best one yet!”
Vanella says she enjoys the personal involvement she shares with visiting customers who come to the Blue Goose Gallery to discover the many styles of art on exhibit.
Although her niche involves creating baskets exclusively, she also appreciates the work of other artists at the gallery, which range from oil paintings and mixed media to jewelry-making and porcelain pottery.
“We’re all the best audience of each other’s work,” she says. “We buy pieces from each other,” adding that, “I work with a wonderful group of people.”
Vanella notes that depending on the size and complexity of the baskets she makes, it can take hours to several weeks to complete one.
She mentions that a specific basket she’s been working on for quite awhile now she intends to give as a gift to the Collins Pine Co. of Chester for their efforts to ward of the Dixie Fire of 2021, by bulldozing a number of nearby fire breaks, which she attributes to saving dozens of homes in Prattville.
Vanella recalls being entranced by art since she was a small girl. She recounts a great aunt who had a selection of baskets, which years later would steer her as an adult to the world of basket making, starting around 12 years ago after she retired from interior design work and selling the couple’s almond tree farm.
Even before she joined Blue Goose a decade ago, she began taking basket-weaving classes.
One teacher in particular, Lynn Kelleher, was especially influential. Although she was blind, Vanella says Kelleher could grade her students’ baskets by touch, feeling every stitch. “She was an amazing woman.”
She has been drawn to art for as long as she can remember, she says. “I loved attending museums,” adding that she also eagerly attends the Plumas Arts-sponsored annual Almanor Art Show in Chester that’s staged during the summer on the large Collins Pine lawn next to Main St.
Over the years, Vanella has improved her skills in basket coiling, as the medium is technically called, learning new techniques and producing ever more unique and beautiful pieces that have been in demand by collectors far and wide.
All her works are signed on the back and named for various Native American tribes, she says. This adds value to each piece as a collectable.
Vanella is clear why she feels art should be so important in our lives. “I think art is part of the joy of life. … It enriches us in so many ways, by bringing beauty to what might otherwise be a drab existence.”