Story last updated at 3:23 PM on Thursday, September 22, 2005

Artist readies basket for second beach burning


A small crowd watches Mavis Muller's basket burn at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit in September 2004.  
A year ago, Homer basket maker Mavis Muller organized the building of a 6-foot tall basket at Mariner Park on the Homer Spit. Over four days, volunteers helped Muller gather materials and weave the basket. She invited people to drop tokens of loved ones in portals on the four sides of the basket. By the project’s end, Muller and her friends had built a shed-sized work of art woven with grass and twigs and decorated with photographs and poetry.

And then she burned it.

Over the last winter, Muller organized building three more large baskets at artists’ residencies in California — and burning them.

Why burn baskets?

“It seemed right,” Muller said at a talk last Saturday at Bunnell Street Gallery. “Baskets in their own right have an ephemeral quality. Baskets aren’t supposed to last forever.”

This week, Muller started building another basket at Mariner Park, “A Shrine of Remembrance,” she calls it. The basket was started in support of National Arctic Refuge Action Day, Sept. 20, a national event to protest opening up the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development.

As with last year’s basket, Muller invites people to help build the basket and to place tokens of remembrance in the basket. At 6 p.m. Sunday at Mariner Park, there is a community potluck — with no alcohol or dogs — followed by a basket burning at 8 p.m., in support of another social protest, National Peace and Justice Day.

At her talk, “Baskets as Ephemeral Art,” Muller spoke about last winter’s projects at Half Moon Bay, Mendocino and Santa Cruz, all in California. She also displayed models of her four baskets.

“Cornucopia of Gratitude and Manifestation” was built in the traditional “horn of plenty” design of a spiral cone decreasing from an open mouth to a single point — the horn of the basket. Made of cypress branches, grape vines, corn husks and bull kelp, it was burned at Half Moon Bay around Thanksgiving last fall.

“Wishing Well of Wishes for Wellness” — as its title describes: a wishing well shaped basket — was built at Big River Beach near Mendocino, Calif., between the winter solstice and Dec. 26. Suspended in the middle like a well bucket was another basket — a basket within a basket, Muller said.

A third basket, “Hearthfire of Cleansing and Creative Renewal Cauldron,” was made in late January and early February at Sea Bright Beach near Santa Cruz. A cauldron shaped basket, it honored Brigid, the Irish goddess of healing, and was burned on the Celtic holiday of Imbolc, Feb. 2, or Groundhog’s Day, the halfway point between the solstice and the equinox.

Muller was inspired by the idea of burning large works of arts after attending the Burning Man festival last fall at the annual arts festival at the Black Rock playa near Gerlach, Nev. With the support of a career opportunity grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, Muller went last year to help build one of the major art works at the festival, the Temple of Stars, a 100-foot high, quarter-mile work made of wooden puzzle cutouts that was burned at the end of the festival.

An eight-day event drawing 40,000 people this year, Burning Man is a temporary city complete with a department of public works, a post office, even a DMV — Division of Mutant Vehicles — to regulate the only allowed vehicles at the festival, decorated art cars.

“It’s the largest interactive art environment in the world,” Muller said. “There’s more artistic expression per square mile than any other place in the world.”

Muller went to Burning Man last month and took a small basket in which she asked people to place wishes for wellness. She put that basket in another work of art that also was burned.

As she finishes her latest project, Muller again invites visitors to leave poems, writings or other tokens honoring loved ones.

“We have all lost someone we loved and we miss them,” she said. “We all have burdens.”

When the basket is done, when the final bit of straw is woven into place, Muller’s latest ephemeral work will again go through the transformation of combustion, fiber becoming heat and light — and another form of art.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at