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Aged Basket Weaver Dwells in World Untouched by ‘Hard Times’

Contributed by Donna Osborn

C S Osborn

C.S. Osborn, a basket maker at Taos, Mo., More Than Half a Century Makes His Trade an Art and Says, “I don’t Have Any Hard Times Here. Looks to Me Like People Make Their Own Hard Times. And Just Talking Hard Times Makes Them” --Baskets and Homespun Philosophy for All.

In the little hillside village of Taos, Mo., where the tide of events flows less swiftly and the machine age has penetrated less surely than in larger cities, lives a man who has made an art of his trade. He is a basket weaver, following the simple and honorable trade of his father and his father’s father, and putting into the weaving of each basket the joy of workmanship and the pride of perfection that has glorified labor in decades past.

For over half a century he has been plying his trade, weaving an average of one basket a day. In a nearby city a huge device of iron and steel and electricity weaves some five or six thousand baskets a day. And yet the baskets made by C. S. Osborn are always in demand. They seem to have a soul in them, somehow a soul put into them by this worn old man with the white hair and mustache and the thin stooping shoulders and the strong supple hands. Mr. Osborn though well into his seventy-fifth year, learns daily something new in the art of weaving baskets.

His baskets, beautiful in the exquisite workmanship with which he fashions them, are designed primarily for use, hard wearing, tearing use; the use of the farmer who fills one with sweet-smelling grain, the use of the farmer’s wife who slips one on her arm and gathers fresh vegetable, the use of the housewife who heaps high in a spacious hamper the clean family wash.

Mr. Osborn, seated in a worn work chair in his shanty workshop, daily receives the homage and the admiration of visitors from the village or curiosity seekers on the road, or the friends and admirers from nearby cities who come to watch his skillful fingers fashion a market basket, and to hear him dish out between ready explanations of how it is done equally ready homemade philosophies or well-pointed jokes.

“There’s kind of a trick to making a basket,” he explains. “You see, there are thirteen ribs, uprights I call them, but you only start out with twelve. You split one rib, thus to make an odd number so you can weave around it. The size and height of a basket depends upon the length of these ribs.”

All of the baskets are woven from strips of wood. Red elm wood, because it is tough and pliable, is used to fashion the ribs and the interwoven strips, and hackberry wood is used to make the handles. And every bit of the wood is used in the baskets is gathered by Mr. Osborn from the woods near his home. From the first shopping of the great elm logs some of them two or three feet thick, to the last wedging of the hackberry handles, every bit of the work is done by Mr. Osborn. He uses no nails, no steam, no machinery, and only the simplest of tools. An old fashioned razor, which he has set into a wooden handle, forms the knife which he uses for whittling the strips of wood into shape. A rude homemade shaving horse, fashioned from logs now worn slick and shiny from use, is pushed and pulled back by a wooden pedal and is used to aid in shaving the strips to the desired shape. A twelve-pound hammer is used for pounding the rough logs. These, together with his skillful fingers and the “natural bend” of the wood, fashion the strong baskets that have found their way from the shanty in Taos to all parts of the United States.