A tisket, a tasket, a handmade white-oak basket … Okay, we’ve changed the words of the poem a bit, but there’s a reason. Handmade white-oak (and other wood) baskets are what Joe and Alice Dudenhoeffer of Linn are all about.
And we do mean handmade: From the tree to the finished piece, Joe and Alice do every step by hand, beginning with harvesting the trees, splitting the wood, stripping the bark, cutting the weaving strips, making the handles, and finally weaving the baskets.
They learned from the best: Roger and Betty Curry, of the Ozarks’ Gibson-Curry basket fame. After several years of making baskets with the Currys at the Christianson Native Craft Workshop at Shannondale (on Highway 19 between Salem and Eminence), Joe spent a week working with Roger, who is since deceased, to learn how to harvest the trees and prepare the materials. That was in the early 1980s.
“They gave us our start,” says Alice. “We’re still learning.”
Not many people still make baskets this way, it is so time and labor intensive. For the Dudenhoeffers, the satisfaction and the quality make it worth the effort. It is also why they have been deemed master basket makers by the Missouri Folk Arts Program and participate in its apprenticeship program.
“Eighty to ninety percent of all the wood and materials we use are from our farm,” says Joe with pride. They also harvest some trees from friends’ farms, trading baskets for wood. They buy deer and elk antler sheds, which can be used for basket handles.
Baskets aren’t the only creative outlet for the Dudenhoeffers. Alice throws pottery, and Joe likes to carve. His pet project is to carve a dog out of every type of native wood in Missouri.
Love of trees
“We have such beautiful woods here in Missouri, some of the finest woods in the world,” says Joe. White oak, red oak, hickory, sassafras, walnut, elm, cedar – Joe rattles off the names as he runs his fingers over the various pieces. That he loves wood is evident.
“How wonderful the white oak tree is, and how grateful I am that the good Lord has let us work with it, so that people will get to know it.” White oak is his favorite for baskets, but “there are lots of other beautiful trees, too.”
“We use the trees totally,” he says, for stools, tables, handles (for baskets, shovels, rakes), chair caning, and firewood. They use bark for mulch and trimmings for smoking foods.
Some woods are extra-special because of the source. For example, Joe was able to salvage the old wooden doors from the Catholic church in Frankenstein and he uses that wood for carving projects. Joe was raised at Frankenstein and Alice in Jefferson City.
A family affair
Joe worked for almost 36 years for Three Rivers Electric Cooperative, retiring in 2010. Alice was a stay-at-home mom for their two children, Jennifer and Christopher, both now adults. When Joe and the kids left for the day, Alice headed into the workshop, equipped with Diet Pepsi and Ding-Dongs, and made baskets all day.
Now that Joe has retired, they both go to the workshop, where they begin the day with a Bible reading and prayer, then they weave and carve to their hearts’ content.
The Dudenhoeffers teach basket classes at Shannondale each summer, and occasional other classes. They demonstrated basket weaving at Deutsch Country Days in Marthasville for many years, until its final season in October 2017.
Demonstration at the Capitol
The Dudenhoeffers and their apprentice, Aaron Holsapple, of Jefferson City, will be sharing their knowledge at the first "Folk Arts @ the Capitol" event Tuesday, April 10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Missouri State Museum in Jefferson City.
Among the three, they have almost 90 years of combined experience in the art of white oak basket making. The Dudenhoeffers and Holsapple will have an assortment of completed baskets on display, as well as examples of the various steps of the basket-making process.
The event will be in the Missouri State Museum's History Hall in the East Wing of the Missouri State Capitol. This is your chance to ask about the art and tradition of basket making, and also about the apprenticeship program.
The Missouri State Museum and the Missouri Folk Arts Program are celebrating 30 years of partnership this year. The program began as "Tuesdays at the Capitol" and has evolved into "Folk Arts @ the Capitol," with annual demonstrations and performances by teams of master artists and their apprentices.
When you go
The event is on the first floor of the Capitol. During the Capitol construction project, visitor access to the building is via the South entrance. For ADA access, use the garage entrance on the East side. Visitors age 13 and older are subject to security screening.
Because of the construction outside the Capitol, allow extra time to find parking and to enter the building. The address is Missouri State Capitol, 201 West Capitol, Jefferson City, 65101.
For more information, please call 573-751-2854.