Kristina Varjan has been dedicating herself to the art of making pine needle baskets for the past four years.
It’s a labor-intensive experience that’s hard on the eyes. For an artist who spent years restoring Navajo rugs and never thought she’d be doing such meticulous and demanding work again, it’s turned out to be completely pleasurable.
“A stone, shell or fossil is the beginning point of each basket,” says Varjan, whose show “Presentations: Baskets of Peace by Kristina Varjan opens on August 3 at OTA Contemporary. “They help determine the shape of and colors within the baskets.”
The history of pine needle baskets stretches back thousands of years. Before she made her first baskets, Varjan hunted down every book she could find that documented the various processes involved with making pine needle baskets.
“I don’t add color to the pine needles, and I stay away from chemical dyes,” she says. “Beads are woven into the baskets. Fossils, shells and stones that are in the bottom of the baskets are glued into pieces of leather.”
For Varjan, making pine needle baskets is a meditative experience. A New York-born former dancer who had been a member of the New York City Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet decades ago, Varjan is a highly accomplished practitioner of Aikido, a Japanese martial art that focuses on harmony with one’s opponent to bring peaceful resolutions to situations involving conflict. She teaches seminars throughout the U.S. and Europe and is known worldwide as one of the most accomplished women in the art of Aikido.
“It’s a ritualistic feeling to hold one of my baskets with both hands,” she explains about her work, which is functional as well as beautiful. “Holding them is a big part of the experience.”
Varjan displays a dozen new pieces that were created this year, including one adorned with soft but strong mgambo seeds, commonly known as Hawaiian pussywillows.