A Measure of the Earth

The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets

By Nicholas R. Bell

Foreword by Henry Glassie

Approx. 192 pp., 9.5 x 11, 183 color plates., 6 halftones, bibl., index

  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-1529-5
    Published: October 2013

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Smithsonian American Art Museum

A Measure of the Earth provides an unparalleled window into an overlooked corner of recent American history: the traditional basketry revival of the past fifty years. Steve Cole and Martha Ware amassed a remarkable collection using the most stringent guidelines: baskets made from undyed domestic materials that have been harvested by the maker. An essay by Nicholas Bell details the long-standing use of traditional fibers such as black ash and white oak, willow and sweetgrass, and the perseverance of a select few to claim these elements--the land itself--for the enrichment of daily life. As they trek through woods, fields, farm, and shore in the quest for the right ingredients for a basket, these men and women cultivate an enviable knowledge of the land. Each basket crafted from this knowledge provides not only evidence of this connection to place, but also a measure of the earth.

Drawing on conversations with the basketmakers from across the country and reproducing many of their documentary photographs, Bell offers an intimate glimpse of their lifeways, motivations, and hopes. Lavish illustrations of every basket convey the humble, tactile beauty of these functional vessels.

About the Authors

Nicholas R. Bell is the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. His books include 40 under 40: Craft Futures, History in the Making: Renwick Craft Invitational 2011, and A Revolution in Wood: The Bresler Collection.
For more information about Nicholas R. Bell, visit the Author Page.

Henry Glassie, College Professor Emeritus at Indiana University, has written many books, three of which — Passing the Time in Ballymenone,The Spirit of Folk Art, and Turkish Traditional Art Today — were named notable books of the year by the New York Times. He has won many awards for his work, including the award for a lifetime of scholarly achievement from the American Folklore Society and the Haskins Prize of the American Council of Learned Societies for a distinctive career of humanistic scholarship.
For more information about Henry Glassie, visit the Author Page.


"Essential. Lower-level undergraduates through faculty/researchers; general readers."--Choice

“[Bell] offers an unparalleled window into the traditional basket revival of the past 50 years.”--NICHE Magazine