Debora Muhl is a self taught basket artist from Whitsett, NC, who uses the technique of coiling, in which coils of sweet grass are sewn together with waxed linens or artificial sinew. Her materials of choice are sweet grasses found in various parts of the United States as well as in Canada. All of the grass is gathered, combed & sorted by Native Americans. The grasses are left in their natural state for their sweet aromas. Many of these coiled sculptural baskets begin with an unusual cut-out segment of gourd and are designed in the process of their creation. The resulting basket is a free form sculpture.
Muhl began making baskets in 1984, but the challenge of mastering various techniques and materials eventually led her to create one-of-a-kind art pieces.
Her work is included in many private collections around the world as well as in the permanent collections of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Ma., the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Ma., Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, France and the Racine Art Museum in Racine, Wi.
Debora is the recipient of many awards, some of which include: the Fellowship Award from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2005), “Best of Baskets, Leather & Paper” Award, the American Craft Exposition, Evanston, IL (2002-2003), “Museum Purchase Award” for the Fuller Craft Museum, Craft Boston: Circa Now, Boston (2002), “First Place Award” in Crafts category “Art of the State: Pennsylvania 2001” Pa. State Council on the Arts, and the Fellowship Award from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (2001), “Best of Show” Cherry Creek Arts Festival (1997-1998).
“Music was my first passion. It gave me a vehicle for expressing deep feelings, and it taught me the necessity of bringing discipline and clarity of vision to my work. Sculptural coiling allows me to create a kind of visual metaphor for the music of my life.”
“Sweet grass is also known as holy grass, vanilla grass, or Seneca grass. It is hand gathered by Native Americans in various parts of the United States, as well as in Canada. The grass is combed, sorted and dried in small bundles. This grass has been used in traditional Native American basketry as well as for ceremonial purposes where the grass is bundled with sage leaves and cedar leaves. It is then and then smoldered in "smudging ceremonies" for the cleansing of the spirit. The grass releases a natural oil as it dries that gives off a sweet vanilla-tobacco like fragrance that will remain indefinitely in each sculptural basket.
I made my first basket over 20 years ago and realized my passion for building vessels. I journeyed through many different materials and techniques for several years, but found a huge challenge in the creation of coiled baskets. Once I mastered the traditional technique with pine needles and raffia, I was convinced that this was my niche. I began to search for a unique material and had the ambition to create a unique style. Circumstances fell in my favor, I secured a source for sweet grass and then began breaking all of the traditional rules that I had practiced. The result has been sculptural forms that continue to surprise and fascinate me.”