Leon Niehues

Leon Niehues

2005 Award Recipient | BASKET MAKER , Huntsville

Leon Niehues of Huntsville was named the 2005 Arkansas Living Treasure for his work as a basket maker.

Niehues is self-taught. His interest in the craft developed while living on 40 acres in the rural Pettigrew area, along with his wife, Sharon, and daughter Ruthie. The family lived a back-to-the-land lifestyle that set the stage for his obsession with white oak basket making. He fashions his baskets from the young white oak trees that grow around Madison County in Northwest Arkansas.

He learned his craft working at local hardwood sawmills and visiting with fellow traditional basket makers in Northwest Arkansas. He and his wife also taught himself simple design techniques from reading and research.

After more than 30 years as a full-time studio artist, Niehues still makes baskets daily. He has taught basket making classes throughout the United States, as well as Taiwan and Thailand. While attending and teaching at the 1999 Basketry Conference at Arrowmont Craft School in Gatlinburg, Tenn., Niehues and others in attendance established the National Basketry Organization. Niehues has had his work featured in many publications, including Craft Arts International, American Craft and The New York Times. His work has been featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Although his baskets are often viewed as contemporary works, Niehues uses traditional techniques in all aspects of his craft. His method for producing materials is the same as one would have used 70 years ago. The bases of his baskets begin with the traditional double woven bottom. He uses the Ozark splint knife method for producing weaving materials along with a drawknife, froe, maul, wedges, cabinet scraper and other hand tools to complete his craft.

Along with the traditional aspects, Niehues has added new ideas and construction methods to his craft, such as drilling and stitching basket layers together. This combination gives his work a distinctive look. American Craft Magazine wrote of Leon’s baskets, “These containers deceive the viewer. They seem primitive and modern, functional and decorative, intricate and simple all at once.”

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