“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately … to suck out all the marrow of life …” – Henry David Thoreau
Jeffrey Gale is a man who exemplifies these well-known words of Thoreau, and the artist admits that it was his aim to be like the transcendentalist, to live in a simple cabin without electricity. Nature is what inspires and sustains this traditional basketmaker: the songs of the birds, the sweep of the wind, the flowering gardens, the chickens in the coop, and the pink of the clouds at twilight.
Gale’s unique qualities and beliefs naturally extend into the craft that he lives and breathes. Unlike other basketmakers, Gale explains that, “I start with a live tree and make all the pieces of the baskets myself.” Every part of each basket is made absolutely from scratch with Gale’s antique 19th century hand tools. Not one element of any Gale basket is purchased or imported. The artist cuts his supplies from a living tree, smooths the necessary elements needed to complete a basket, and shapes each bit of white ash hardwood, one piece at a time.
Ever since he was a child, Gale had a real attraction to “old” things and handmade items. He had a particular affinity for wood and, as a young man, decided he wanted to work with this medium because of its functionality and character. “I was inspired by a local basketmaker who showed me how to create baskets but then I went on my own trial and error and invented a system to make it work,” Gale explains.
As one of the captivating artists who does a live demonstration for Sugarloaf, Gale says, “I love doing the demo because it helps people to understand where these baskets come from—I want to open that world to people.” Gale’s audience will see that his baskets are put together without nails, glue, or finish. “They’re 100% hardwood,” he says. People will see that the designs develop an authentic beauty of their own, without the addition of artificial color.
“I use about three trees a year,” Gale says, “and that’s very little. It’s a lot less than what’s even used to heat my workshop.” Usually concentrating on weaving and heating his wood splints in the wintertime, Gale spends the summer months creating hoops and handles. “It’s never been about making baskets for sale. My work has always been about carrying on the tradition of basketmaking for the good of society,” Gale says. “My gift seems to be the gift of shape and wood. I didn’t realize I was unique until I started to look at myself.”
Many others have definitely noticed Gale’s distinctive work. He was recently featured in widely-read Country Living magazine for his unique handle carvings. “The handle holds are classical, not far out, and easily fit in the hand,” he explains, a technique that’s rarely seen done with baskets.
Offering over 70 baskets of different sizes and styles, Gale fondly describes one of his designs—the serving baskets, “They’re like a family—they celebrate life and family.” From this delightful design to the classical basket that fits perfectly on the elbow for carrying garden goods or library books, from the distinctive magazine basket that adds a handsome touch to home décor to the smaller egg basket that adds that country touch to the dinner table, every Jeffrey Gale basket is made with a deep love and reverence for every part of nature.