Williams and Hennessee: White Oak Basketry

Once considered the most prolific white oak basket making region in the United States, Cannon County and neighboring Warren County now claim only two remaining active white oak basket makers. Sue Williams is one of them. She states, “I am the only white oak basket teacher in Middle Tennessee. Years ago, white oak basket making in Cannon County was one of the major sources of income.” Williams learned from legendary basket makers Estel and Gertie Youngblood. Williams has taught apprentice Michelle Hennessee the process of locating an appropriate White Oak tree and harvesting a pole that will be of the quality needed to break down to get supplies (rims, handles, ribs, and weavers) ready to make a basket. Williams has also taught Hennessee the Cannon County Tie, a special X Pattern with a vertical bar woven at the point where the basket handle connects to the rim on each side.

Hennessee states: “There are very few people that understand and appreciate the work and various steps involved in harvesting the tree, preparing, and weaving a handmade white oak basket. Like so many skills of previous generations, these are at risk to become a lost art.” The team has presented their work together at The Arts Center in Cannon County and as special demonstrators at the Tennessee Craft Fair, in Centennial Park, in Nashville.