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Location:
Friendship
Website:
Medium:
Handwoven Wooden Baskets
FEATURED WORK
Roland Rein

All of my baskets are signed and dated, and I often wonder who will look at my signature 100 years from now and wonder about the person who created the piece.

Roland Rein started as a snake oil salesman. At a mountain man rendezvous, surrounded by frontiersmen and craftsmen of all kinds, a guy in the neighboring camp got drunk and, ever the salesman, Roland ended up selling the stranger’s inventory of baskets. Maybe as a thank-you, maybe because the guy knew a good salesman when he saw one, he later hired Roland, launching this Indiana Artisan’s basket making career more than a quarter-century ago.

Following the weekend sales success, Roland says of the basket maker, “He contacted me and asked me to start a fundraising program for his company in the Pennsylvania area. I did that and did quite well due to the quality of the baskets. I then persuaded him to teach me the art of making baskets.”

For the next several years, Roland participated in various reenactments around the country. “It was a great way to see the United States,” he said. It also was the path to launching his own company. “When 9/11 hit, it changed the retail and wholesale markets. The company closed its doors, and I purchased some of the equipment and materials and began crafting baskets solo. It was exciting because I was 100 percent in charge of every aspect, from design and material selection to weaving techniques and stain selection.”

Being in charge allowed Roland to dictate how he does business. “I have the ability to make a basket so strong and durable that I can offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee on each basket,” he said, slowly and emphatically saying “unconditional.” Proud of his policy, and his work, he said, “No matter what happens to any of my baskets, I will fix it or replace it, no matter what.”

His goal is to make America’s finest baskets, and he may already have reached that goal. “I get calls from all over the United States,” he says, “from people who have bought my work in the past. The biggest compliment an artisan can get is when people buy more.”

Roland knows the history of basket making, being clear that humans have been “buying more” since nearly the dawn of time. “In history, baskets predate pottery and have had as many shapes and sizes as the imagination can create,” he said. “Add in the varying materials and you have endless possibilities.”

Having been at his craft so long, Roland now designs a lot of his work. “Many of the trapper baskets I make date in design to the 1700s,” he said. “All of my baskets are signed and dated, and I often wonder who will look at my signature 100 years from now and wonder about the person who created the piece.”

A quarter of Indiana Artisan’s review criteria centers on the work’s link with Indiana. Asked how being a Hoosier impacts his baskets, Roland said, “Location, location, and location. Being in Friendship gives me a central location to head in just about any direction to reach shows in a reasonable time. The National Muzzleloading Rifle Association’s championship matches are in my hometown twice a year, bringing a national audience to my shop and showroom. It is like demonstrating at a show without having to bring equipment along.”

Roland’s wife is leatherworker Robin Dyer, an Indiana Artisan and maker of handcrafted Dyer’s Moccasins. “While helping Robin at the Indiana Artisan Marketplace in Indianapolis, I was privileged to see the best fine craft I had ever seen in one location,” he said when asked why he applied to the organization. “I wanted to be a part of this as it grows,” he said. “It will allow me to have a great avenue for my business to grow while being surrounded by other artists who also take pride in their work.”

Now surrounded by fine craftsmen and women of a different caliber, Roland’s sales and business aptitude moves what is now his basket making business into its next quarter-century. No more snake oil, no more drunk guys in the camp next door.