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Fiber Artist Shirley Eichten Albrecht

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: September, 2013, Page 170
Photo by Garrett Cook

Shirley Eichten Albrecht weaves masterful basket sculptures in her home studio, redefining the meaning of “basket.”

Shirley Eichten Albrecht Blends Pottery, Beads and More Into Her Basket Sculptures

Award-winning fiber artist Shirley Eichten Albrecht doesn’t speak of her work in elaborate terms. The Sedona, Arizona, resident calls herself a basket maker, plain and simple.

But her modest definition falls short in accurately describing all that her vivid imagination dreams up and her skilled hands produce, say those who admire her work. A peer, Sedona fiber artist Mary Flaisig, says Albrecht “is not just a basket maker, but a master basket maker. She shows imagination well beyond standard patterns. She invents patterns.”

Albrecht uses reeds and grasses in her basket-weaving, just as people over eons have done. But rather than having a utilitarian purpose—such as carrying corn, rice or beans, as in yesteryear—her pieces are made purely for the purpose of becoming art. She calls them sculptures.

Albrecht adds elements of raku pottery to many of her woven creations, sometimes even antlers. Gourds often are joined with her basketwork, or, when transformed by Albrecht with paint and other embellishments, they stand on their own as works of art.

Her Red Rock Basket Studio is located in the shadow of Sedona’s famed red rock pinnacles; the natural beauty of the setting, its “creative energy” and its Native American influences inform her creations, Albrecht reflects with a smile.

Fanned Antler Wallhanging, 11"H x 17"W x 10"D
A patchwork of textures and colors, her well-organized “workplace” is dotted with materials of her trade. Coils of rattan from Indonesia are stacked neatly. Jars of dyes stand in a row. Tiny drawers hold decorative beads for trim, with many coming from old necklaces she takes apart. Resting on tables and shelves are works both in progress and completed. They “beg” to be touched, she agrees with a laugh.

The self-taught expert recalls the reaction she got from people after making her first basket sculpture, when she and her husband, Robert, a professional fine-art photographer, were living in St. Louis. “It was a tall woven basket and tied at the top. ‘What’s that?’” she was asked. “‘Where’s the handle?’” Albrecht explains, “People did not understand that it was art-oriented. They thought a basket had to be functional.” That piece has since won recognition by a weavers’ organization.

A resident of Arizona since 2001, Albrecht began adding raku to her basket repertoire about a year later. She has exhibited her works in galleries and juried exhibits in Arizona and other states. The artist’s mixed-media art, including her sculptures and wallhangings, has won her praise and a following. “When I first saw her art, it grabbed me,” notes Sedona resident Amy Duncan, who owns several Albrecht pieces. “I can recognize her work. It is earthy and very much like nature, and it’s eclectic, with unusual textures and free-flowing shapes.”

Albrecht’s creations are found at the Enchantment Resort in Sedona and are popular with their clients for a variety of reasons, according to Kelly Dunagan, Enchantment’s retail director. Vacationers buy Albrecht’s works for their artistic quality and also because they are handmade in America, and, even better, she says, locally, by a true artist.

Albrecht loved to draw as a child and went on to earn a degree in art and teach it in elementary school for a time. She later owned a marketing firm with her husband. Through it all, she engaged in a variety of crafts.

But it was basket-making, with its seemingly limitless possibilities, that pleased her the most and charged up her creativity. It still does. “I like working with my hands,” she comments, admitting, “A lot of the time, I let the reed tell me what it wants to do.”

Photos - From left: Eye of the Vortex, 2"H x 23" in diameter; at its center is a handmade purple
raku plaque. • Vision Quest, 11"H x 9"W x 6"D, has a gourd base inset with a geode.

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