By Gina Malone
A thoughtful baby shower gift of a handmade basket 24 years ago so impressed Ronda Cassada that she decided to focus her creative energies on basket making. “I started researching and buying the kits local here at the Earth Guild and taught myself how to weave,” she says. Her baskets are functional, she adds, made to be used and not kept on a shelf: from the harvest baskets she uses in her flower and herb gardens to the ones she takes shopping in lieu of the handled, plastic ones stores offer. “People will always stop you and ask, ‘Where did you get that beautiful basket?’” she says. “It’s the best feeling ever to tell them you made it.”
Last year, she began offering workshops for adults who want to learn the basics of weaving baskets. “The most amazing part of a workshop is how the class will start out making the same basket and, at the end, they all look entirely different,” Ronda says. “That is the beauty of a handmade product.” Those attending the workshops are often skeptical that a few hours of instruction will yield a beautiful basket. Ronda spends time outside of the classroom thinking about and looking at patterns for workshop projects. “If I have the time, I create most of the beginner patterns myself, making them as easy as possible for anyone to follow,” she says.
A Buncombe County native, Ronda’s family settled in the area in the 1700s and she has lived here all of her life. The sensory experience of art that appealed to her as a child remains with her still. “The colors and smells of an art classroom led me to a lifelong passion for being creative,” she says.
Her classroom is set up with eight workstations, providing all of the materials and tools to complete baskets. “We use a natural wicker called reed,” she says. “It is sturdy and pliable, working like wood.” She encourages participants to take photos of their work as they go along and, at the end of class, provides the material they need and names of companies where more can be purchased to complete and start new projects at home. “I feel that verbal instructions and a hands-on approach work very well with visual learners,” she says.
“I love having the opportunity to share the knowledge I have with others having the same passion,” she says. “Each time I make a basket, I am amazed that a few pieces of reed and a handle can transform into such a useful thing.”
She has taken the opportunity, since the pandemic canceled workshops in March, to create a line of fall baskets for beginners. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to have some time to be creative and come up with actual baskets participants can weave in two and a half to three hours.”
She plans to resume workshops in January, with safety in mind and with instruction ranging from beginner to more challenging intermediate baskets. She offers workshops every Friday and Saturday, with private party classes available. “I want people to know they can come to my studio and participate in a small arts and crafts group for a couple of hours and take something home with them that they created,” she says. “I want them to be proud they are learning a traditional craft they can continue to pass down to future generations.”
To learn more about Ronda W Cassada Basketry and to register for Make-a-Basket workshops, visit Ronda-W-Cassada-Basketry.com or find on Facebook at BasketClasses. Ronda W Cassada Basketry is located at Crest Mountain Office Studios, 30 Ben Lippen School Road, Suite 205, Asheville. Gift cards are also available on the website.