MOUNT ZION — As Donna Johnson sought to honor the 16th president, particularly in light of his birthday today, she decided to draw on a craft she's been practicing for more than a decade: basket weaving.
Johnson, a basket weaver from Mount Zion, fashioned some of her basket creations to look like a stovepipe hat, similar to the ones made popular by Lincoln. Johnson adds memorabilia or details, such as cookie cutters, ribbons or recipes.
Lincoln’s stovepipe hat wasn't just a fashion statement , according to “10 Facts about the Other Abe," by Elizabeth Downing. He also used it to store and carry notes, letters, even bills.
It was this inspiration that encouraged Johnson to honor Lincoln. “He was 6-foot-4. He surely didn’t need any more height,” Johnson said.
Similar to Lincoln's hat, the wicker baskets made to resemble it can be used to hold memos and other office supplies. “They would also make a great candy dish,” Johnson said.
Since the hat baskets are handmade, they range in size. They average about a foot tall and the base is about 10 inches wide. Johnson plans to make smaller baskets that would be an appropriate size for pens, pencils and highlighters.
Lincoln has become the focus of many Johnson pieces. Because of the historical and political aspects of being the state capital, Springfield has many tourists traveling through its downtown area.
Johnson noticed one of the more popular shops had many nice items for sale, but few Lincoln pieces. Johnson was given the opportunity to display her baskets at the store, Studio on 6th. To her surprise, they sold quickly.
“The hats do well, because they are different,” she said. “And I reduced my price.”
All of the items sold at Studio on 6th are made by local artists. Cynthia Wilkin is a booth owner and volunteer for the store. “We look for quality artists, as well as Illinois items,” she said.
Wilkin admired the unique hat baskets, as well as Johnson’s other products. “They are sturdy and the variety is excellent,” Wilkin said. “She has Valentine’s Day, Illini and Cubs and Cardinals (baskets) with ribbons woven in them. She covers the gamut.”
Johnson soon will be adding her products to another shop, Expressions Gift and Consignment in Cerro Gordo.
She has limited where her products are displayed, so not to compete with her mentor, Bonnie Rideout. “I have taken her classes for 15 years,” Johnson said. “And I get my supplies from her.”
Rideout has taught basket weaving classes since 1994. Johnson is just one of her many students.
“She was enthusiastic and always wanting to learn more,” Rideout said of her student and friend.
The teacher watched Johnson became more creative in her own style. One of her other popular pieces are the wall or door baskets -- containers that can be hung on a flat surface. She continues to keep Lincoln as a theme, adding cookie cutters and wooden ornaments.
Johnson creates most of her pieces using colored reeds.
“When you start weaving them, you have to manipulate it with hot, hot water. The black seems to be so much ornerier to bend,” she said. “It’s not as pliable as the natural ones.”