Work by more than 100 Artisans inside new Carmel more

Woven longleaf pine needle basket products
City Exchange Shops, Fort Wayne;
Aromas from Heaven, Speedway;
Grouseland gift shop, Vincennes
Connie Moolenaar

“In the past eleven years, I have made more than 1,500 baskets,” Connie said. “The rich Indiana heritage of basket making by pioneers and American Indians is brought to life through these pieces.”

While crafts, such as glassmaking, have histories rooted in ancient Egypt, Connie Moolenaar’s pursuit might have the oldest history in North America. It certainly dates to prehistoric Indiana.

“I love the historical aspect of Indiana and its rich history of making products from items produced by the land,” said the longtime Longaberger Basket collector whose passion turned to creating her own woven longleaf pine needle baskets. Connie uses some of the same methods and material as the American Indians and early settlers, and she localizes her work by using longleaf pine needles from trees in her back yard, as well as from other states. She embellishes some of her work, localizing it even more, by incorporating black walnut and cedar slices.

“The black walnut slices are from native black walnut trees,” she says. “Many people tell stories from earlier days of removing hulls and picking nutmeats as a family activity, or how the squirrels helped remove the nuts. My customers definitely have a connection to the black walnut slices and enjoy learning the process my husband and I use to gather, clean, slice, and sand the walnuts for use in my baskets.”

One quarter of Indiana Artisan’s review criteria is the work’s link with the Hoosier State, and Connie’s cedar slices are made from pruning the trees in her Owen County yard – slicing, sanding and drilling holes in these products from the land that make distinctive Indiana treasures. She went on to say, “I sometimes use gemstones, different type of nuts, petrified wood, and short needle pines to create various sized baskets, wall hangings and other work.”

Connie’s technique is called “coiling,” and it incorporates the pine needles and nut and wood slices woven and stitched to make both functional and decorative work. “I gather the needles from the ground and bundle and store them until I’m ready for them,” she said. When that time comes, Connie soaks the needles in hot water for approximately thirty minutes, pulls the caps off with a knife and bundles the damp needles in a small towel and plastic bag.

“I stitch the damp needles with artificial sinew, coiling the needles in a circular manner,” she said, describing her creative process. “After it dries for a day or two, I put a protective seal on so it will be sturdy and last for generations. Some pieces may be similar, but no two pieces are alike. My unique style allows me to create different stitches, sizes and shapes.” And her style has led to a demand that keeps her busy.

“In the past eleven years, I have made more than 1,500 baskets,” she said. “The rich Indiana heritage of basket making by pioneers and American Indians is brought to life through these pieces, and another strong appeal is that they all are handcrafted by me. Customers have sent my work to several states, as well as to France, England, Mexico, and Japan. Several customers have returned, wanting a unique, handcrafted product from Indiana to give as a gift.”

Adding to the community aspect basket making has, Connie packages each of her creations with a longleaf pine needle and a bag handmade by her 89-year-old mother, who taught her to crochet as a small child – an activity the two still share.

And speaking of family, Connie also explains her dad’s influence on her work. “My father made products from wood, and the business name was ‘From Trees to These.’ I use this as a slogan in my business as a memory of him and his woodworking passion.” Perfectly appropriate for an age-old craft passed down by generations and perfected today by Indiana Artisan Connie Moolenaar.