• Annual event set for Sept. 18
By Randi Somers
Volunteers have been at work since Sunday creating a basket to be burned Sept. 18, at Mariner Park at the base of the Homer Spit.
A headquarters tent was erected and materials that had already been gathered to begin the seven-day process were delivered to the site. On hand are refreshments for workers who are out gathering more materials and weaving them into the structure.
Under the direction of homer public art facilitator, Mavis Muller, volunteers will be working on the basket noon to 5 p.m. daily. Muller started the Homer Burning Basket Project in 2004 and facilitates the event in the autumn every year.
“The theme this year is ‘Together,” she said. “It is consistent with themes over the years as a basket of remembrance and unburdening.”
Through the week of construction, more volunteers show up on nice days than raining-sideways days, Muller said. “We bond while working on this. The wet windy days are the most memorable. Our imagination gives us the ability to override the conditions. Some volunteers are passionate about this project and come year after year from near and far. One came from Pennsylvania this week, just to help build the basket. In addition to locals, also helping so far is one volunteer from Chicago and a group from Anchorage. Curiosity stops travelers headed down the Spit and some stay to help. The beauty of this kind of art, people stumble upon it by accident and are drawn in to participate,” Muller said.
This is the eighth basket enactment for Homer of 21 constructed and burned in several states. “It’s like a coming-of-age landmark,” she said. “The project was born here and now it’s coming home on its 21st birthday.”
Volunteers are gathering natural materials such as wild grass, nettles, fireweed, branches of alder, birch and spruce as well as seaweed that has washed ashore and weaving them into a basket. As the structure is completed, people attach messages to loved ones, some of whom have passed on.
The Burning Basket project doesn’t cost much. “Sometimes I put out a donation jar and if people put even a dollar in that helps because the cost is minimal since we use natural materials.” Muller adds that the cost is mostly for incidentals such as posters, supplies and stocking the headquarters tent with food and water. Sometimes tools need to be purchased and celebratory effects are added with sparklers. She said the cost of cds dvds comes out of pocket. “The biggest expenditure is time,” she adds. “It’s a gift and it’s a very rewarding feeling. When given as a gift to the community Sunday, those who have invested time are moved by how the community receives the gift.”
This year there is an added attraction. “We’re going to have another special sculpture, fire-breathing salmon, on site,” she said, “facilitated by metal smith artist Doug Schwiesow. I had a dream and called him. He became very animated and promptly gave me a list of materials.” The resulting creations were debuted at the Kenai Salmon Stock Festival in early August. Paralyzed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), he directed construction of this art from his wheelchair.
At the 2009 event, Schwiesow installed a 5,000-pound gong at the site to sound at the lighting of the fire. Schwiesow dedicated the gong to be installed permanently at the park to honor his former partner, Lois Bettini, who died that year.
Another attraction is a labyrinth nearby that is decorated and becomes more elaborate each year as students from Fireweed Academy embellish the pattern. They are working on it today, Wednesday.
Every year local people who practice fire spinning – juggling and spinning staffs with balls of fire on the ends – perform, she said, and drummers usually show up and form a drumming circle. Spontaneous dancing and music often add to the festivities.
Beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday people are invited to attach messages and/or other decorations to the basket that they wish to send up. The show begins around 6 p.m. with potluck dining, Muller’s short talk and then at sundown torches will be lit to ignite the basket. Hundreds of people have participated in this event over the years.
“I’m learning that the burning is just a small part of the event,” Muller said. “The creation is a huge part of the life of the sculpture.”
Anyone wishing to be a part of it can stop at Mariner Park any afternoon.
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