Don’t ask Clay Burnette how long it takes to make his intricately coiled pine needle baskets.
He won’t tell you.
The 64-year-old Columbia artist probably has an inkling, but his practiced response is, “If I knew, I wouldn’t do it.”
Basketry has been a longtime hobby for Burnette, something he does in his spare time outside his job as grants director for the South Carolina Arts Commission, a post he has held for 22 years.
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He also handweaves scarves, but the baskets are what he’s known for. He’s exhibited them in places as near as the S.C. State Museum and as far away as the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, Senegal.
The bowls are never utilitarian – they lack handles and lids, and some don’t look like they could hold anything inside them at all.
“I was never interested in traditional shapes. I want free-form shapes,” he said.
In Burnette’s converted garage studio near Richland Mall, the shelves are lined with cones of thread and baskets of all shapes and sizes, beautiful in their graceful irregularity – oblong, circular, figure-eight-shaped and technicolored – some smaller than your palm and others larger than your head.
The big ones (I pressed for a hint) can take months to create.
Burnette will sell a number of his baskets and scarves Sunday, Dec. 13 at Crafty Feast, an indie craft fair at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
The market-style setup features more than 100 jury-selected vendors from across the Southeast whose wares include everything from hand-drawn greeting cards to button bouquets to gourmet pet treats. There will also be food (for humans), beer, live music, crafts and a gift-wrapping station.
Debi Schadel works with her event and communications firm partner, Tracie Broom, to produce the event. Crafty Feast has grown in size since the first “feast” held in the Eau Claire community in 2009.
“It’s great one-stop shopping,” Schadel said. “You’re not going to be able to find this stuff anywhere else.”
This year, the lineup includes more than 42 new vendors.
And this year, Burnette enjoys the title of Best in Show.
“It’s exciting,” Burnette said of the win. “It’s such a great, local show.”
Burnette was chosen as best in show because of creativity and meticulousness, said Sally Peek, one of the show’s five jurors.
“His eye for design is unprecedented. He was a very easy pick for all of us,” she said.
In second place was CHI Design, a studio founded by Columbia resident Carolina Harper, who works with South Carolina indigo dye to make wearable art.
Third place was Jessica C. White of Asheville, N.C., who makes letterpress illustrations and prints.
Burnette started making baskets while pursuing an art studio degree at the University of South Carolina in the ’80s. He begins each piece by collecting longleaf pine needles green from trees around the Midlands. He dries the needles for four to six months and, when they’re ready, dips them in various colors and individually paints some of the sheaths for an extra pop.
Then it’s coil, coil, coil, making row upon row upon row until a basket forms.
Burnette uses waxed linen thread to bind the needles together, although he sometimes uses telephone wire, copper wire or brass wire. As a final touch, he brushes on a coating of beeswax to seal the creation.
It’s an inchoate process – Burnette doesn’t like to know what he’s making until he gets going – unlike weaving a scarf. For that, Burnette is shackled to the two large looms in his studio with a specific plan laid out.
Luckily, he has two parrotlets (small birds similar in appearance to a parakeet) in his studio to keep him company as he works. At home, that job falls to his Yorkie mix, Hairy.
Perhaps they could use some of those Crafty Feast gourmet pet treats for their supportive roles. Or something else that’s one of a kind.
“It’s an eclectic mix of businesses,” Peek said. “I’ve done Crafty Feast since its inception, and I’ve never missed one. I look forward to it every year.”
So, how long will it take you to shop for everyone on your gift list at Crafty Feast?
We won’t tell.
WHEN: Noon-6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 13
WHERE: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln St.
COST: $3, free for kids 10 and younger
DETAILS: Find the full list of vendors at www.craftyfeast.com.
Vendors to visit
Top five fresh Crafty Feast artists
1. Izzabee’s Confectionaries, Lexington
Boutique baked good business. Izzabee’s was runner-up on Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”
2. Humble Roots, Greenville
Homemade mason jars of fine pimento cheese, including smoked gouda goat and jalapeno
3. llllillll stitches, Charlotte
Hand-drawn designs and embroidered fabrics framed by wooden hoops
4. That Godzilla Guy, Columbia
Contemporary Kaiju art with a mixture of photography and Godzilla
5. Sunny Mullarkey Studio, Greenville
Printing on wood and a variety of different types of papers
Top five classic Crafty Feast artists
1. Dylancommadash, Columbia
Stencil-based graffiti artwork on canvas and photography prints on wood
2. Nana by Sally, Columbia
Handmade leather handbags, wallets and other accessories. Sally Peek is also one of the jurors.
3. The Poppy Posse, West Columbia
Expressive flower headdresses and hair flower pieces
4. Metamorphosis Metals, Raleigh
Traditional metalsmithing techniques mixed with nontraditional materials
5. Elizabeth b Ceramics, Andrews
Ceramics made by drawing, etching, and carving.