By Gina Malone
In Jerry Maxey’s family his father’s workshop had an open door policy. “We kids could use the tools if we followed his one rule,” Jerry says. “‘Put it back where you got it.’” With his father in the U.S. Air Force, the family traveled all over the country and the world. Jerry was born in Germany while his father was stationed in France. “All this travel gave me a broad appreciation for different cultures and, I believe, enhanced my ability to appreciate handcrafted beauty in myriad forms,” he says. Wherever they were living, his father always set up a place where he could make useful things. “He grew up in a farming family in rural Arkansas where you didn’t just go down to the store and buy something if you could make it yourself.”
When his father retired, he opened Maxey’s Upholstery, a furniture restoration and upholstery shop. Time spent working there as a teenager and college student taught Jerry the skill of chair caning which, though he did not know it at the time, prepared him for basket weaving later.
After earning a degree in transpersonal psychology from Johnston College in Redlands, CA, he toured with regional Top 40 cover bands as a soundman.
At the age of 30, Jerry Maxey found himself living in an apartment in Greenville, SC, and for the first time in his life he was without access to a shop or tools to make things. “This was driving me crazy,” he says. “I tried writing, which I’d done a little of in college, and I tried cross-stitch and drawing, but nothing worked. Then a friend of mine gave me a little book of basket patterns. I made a basket or two from the book and I became obsessed.”
When he bought a house, he built a workshop next to it and began filling it with tools. He taught himself woodturning and began to incorporate wooden pieces into his baskets. “Over several years, I improved my style and technique and developed the type of work I do today,” he says. “Sometimes the doing takes over and the unexpected reveals itself to you in ways that could not be imagined.”
His materials include found wood from storms, tree removals or construction clearings; rattan; seagrass cord; and waxed cotton yarn. With a lathe, he makes wooden bases and rims for the baskets, keeping in mind the eventual shape of the finished piece as he forms the wood. After the wood is dried and cured, sanded and finished with a coat of tung oil, he drills holes into the edges of the base, cuts spokes and works them into the holes. He then begins the weaving process in a continuous spiral, shaping the basket by hand as he goes. When he nears the top of the weaving, he drills holes into the wooden rim. “This can be a challenge,” he says, “since I may have more than 60 or 70 spokes that all must be inserted rather close together, each into its respective hole.” With the weaving finished, he oils the entire piece with a heavy coat of tung oil to give it a finished look and to intensify the colors.
He uses a wicker-weave technique, using multiple weavers horizontally covering vertical spokes. “This is an ancient basket weaving technique and I’m sure I’ve done nothing that has not been done before,” he says. “But I do my best to make things I’ve never seen before.” He is often asked, he says, if basket weaving is a soothing thing. “I have to reply that it feels great when everything is going well, but often there is a real struggle to bring an idea into the physical world. It can be real work!”
He works with a “full-blown design” in his head and if new ideas come to him as he works he saves them for the next piece. “I read somewhere that art is making a piece, then trying to make a better one, and so on for the rest of your life,” Jerry says. “And that is not such a bad life!”
To learn more, visit JerryMaxey.com. Find Jerry Maxey’s work at Number 7 Arts in Brevard and Mountain Mist Gallery in Cashiers. His work will be displayed at the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild’s Carolina Artisan Craft Market in Raleigh November 1–3, and at the Piedmont Craftsmen’s 56th Annual Craft Fair in Winston-Salem November 23–24.