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John Cowan's baskets are all handmade by John in his small workshop in Lanark. John weaves with UK-grown willows and occasionally Hazel. Most of the willow John uses is unstripped (with the willow bark left in place) so the natural and varied willow colours, as well as its ephemeral fragrance are features of his baskets.
John makes many old basket designs that were once found in agriculture and the UK fishing industry. These forms can be used domestically as sturdy log baskets or attractive quality storage baskets. Besides making traditional baskets, when available, John can accept commissions of made-to-measure & bespoke pieces.
John Cowan began making baskets age 25 after he decided he wanted to work with his hands, use wood and to learn the skills of a traditional craft. John tried many traditional crafts but eventually settled on basketmaking simply because he liked best the process of making baskets. John learned traditional basketmaking from Colin Manthorpe in Norfolk and Virgilijus Bauzys in West Kilbride, after gaining a good grounding in the craft from Geoff Forrest. John has had many inspirational basket encounters with basketmaker and artist Lise Bech. Lise has contributed greatly to John’s understanding of willow and making a living from basketry. Many of the designs John makes are based on those recorded in Colin Manthorpe's notebooks and The Journeymans' List of Basket Sizes - a book that was intended to ensure even rates of pay for members of the basketmakers trade union, but has inadvertently recorded key details of many characterful and traditional British baskets. John is grateful to Colin for agreeing to teach him, and for sharing his vast skills and knowledge during this distinguished basketmakers latter years and retirement. Colin managed to teach John the traditional way of making the Quarter Cran Herring Basket, something of a rare skill in the UK, and beyond, these days. John continued to spend time each year training with Colin up until Colin's death in 2019.
--John & Colin Manthorpe--
-- Quarter Cran Herring Basket (made here in buff willow, oak, hazel and rattan cane) --
-- John making 'Market Shopper' baskets --
John was made a Yeoman Member of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers in 2021