If practice makes perfect, then it’s no wonder the baskets made by Eric Peterson and Barbara (Barb) Sakowicz are so beautiful. They’ve been practicing for years.

Their basket-making journey began in the early 1980s, when Eric started studying with Betty and Roger Curry, considered by many to be the keepers of the flame of traditional Ozark white-oak basket-making.

Barb got into baskets through Eric, whom she met in 1990. “I liked making baskets, but I liked the basket maker more,” she quips.

Together they developed their expertise in making free-form or rib baskets from native materials, as well as traditional white-oak baskets.

Eric himself processes the hickory, elm, and cedar barks needed for their native-materials baskets, and collects the various vines and grasses. The trees and vines come from their property near Taneyville and that of friends who share their basket-making passion.

Eric and Barb transitioned from students to teachers in the early 1990s when Nancy Hillard of Caledonia, the previous free-form basket instructor at the annual Christianson Native Craft Workshop, retired. They were asked to take over her classes.

Nancy gave Eric some of her books and taught him the basics. After Nancy's death, her family gave the rest of her basket books to Eric and Barb for their use. The workshop class is taught al fresco, with students weaving outside under shade trees and even foraging for some materials.

Eric and Barb enjoy seeing the students’ creativity show up in their baskets.  No two are ever alike.

Multiple interests

Basket-making isn’t the only thing Eric and Barb enjoy doing together. A Renaissance couple, their diverse interests range from gardening to ballroom dancing to bee keeping. Eric enjoys woodturning, throwing pots, and blacksmithing. Barb likes weaving, cooking, and home food preservation. They are active in their church and with a number of charitable organizations.

Both are Master Gardeners and enjoy heirloom gardening and seed collecting. Barb teaches flower-pressing classes through the Master Gardener program, and they both volunteer each year to plant the flower gardens at the Kids Across America Camp near Golden. About 700 urban youth from around the country attend the camp each week in the summer.

Eric also enjoyed teaching a staff member of Kanakuk Kamps in Branson how to harvest materials in the wild and use them to make baskets as part of the camp’s survival class series. The baskets the campers created were primitive but functional.

“I’m supposed to be retired,” says Eric, who formerly manufactured brake and clutch parts for automotive and industrial purposes.

Barb’s background is in occupational health care, but when she moved to Taneyville she couldn’t find work in that field, so she started a home-based business with Mary Kay Cosmetics as an independent beauty consultant. The flexibility of that job allows her to assist Eric in teaching basket weaving and gathering materials.

Their country home reflects their artistic natures, and their family and friends are the lucky beneficiaries of their largesse – from canned goods to floral bouquets to baskets. Because, as Barb and Eric point out, it’s not just about weaving a basket, it’s about weaving friendships in the process.

Basket Classes

Eric and Barb teach private classes by appointment in their home outside of Taneyville, near Branson in Taney County. Classes include a snack or light lunch. At a recent class, Barb served homemade breads and jams, with a big pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. Class fees vary, depending on types of materials used, size and complexity of baskets, and group size.

For information about scheduling a private basket-making class for your group, or about purchasing baskets, contact Eric or Barb at epwchollow@gmail.com or 417-546-5588. They have a small supply of baskets on hand, or can create customized baskets to order.

Barb and Eric teach the free-form (rib) basket class at the Christianson Native Craft Workshop held at the end of July at Shannondale Community Center, on Highway 19 between Salem and Eminence; www.christiansonnativecraft.org.

For many years, Eric has assisted at most of Betty Curry’s classes, including the annual Gibson-Curry Split Oak Basket Workshop. Betty carried on the white-oak basket tradition after her husband, Roger, passed away. For awhile now, Betty has been talking about retiring, and the word is that her October workshop will be the last. It is sold out, but there is a waiting list. For information, contact Betty Curry at 417-827-2102.

“Betty said if I’d keep working at it, I’d learn. I hope I’m getting there,” jokes Eric. He’s there, all right, and so is Barb. They've woven a life of not just baskets, but of love.

(A version of this story appeared earlier in MissouriLife.)