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Donna Kallner with bracken harvest

Donna Kallner with bracken harvest

Donna Kallner is one of the exciting artists who will be teaching at the National Basketry Organization conference in July, in St. Paul Minnesota. Why not give yourself the gift of a creative retreat with a like-minded community! Learn more at

According to Donna Kallner, there is not a lot of difference teaching someone to canoe in white water and teaching someone to make a basket…except the basketry students can make mistakes without ending up drenched and with frozen hair.

Donna, who lives on the Wolf River in northern Wisconsin, ran a white water canoe school with her husband until 2000 and learned how to teach from the American Canoe Association training programs.  The fundamentals, she said, are the same:  teach your students how to hold their bodies; break it down into learnable segments; and, most of all, understand the many ways in which people learn.

In a basketry workshop, that means doing a lot of modeling, demonstrating how to hold the material and how to position the piece while working. It means breaking down kinetic barriers. “Sometimes you just have to tweak a hand position and everything falls into place,” she said.

While people know they have a dominant and non-dominant hand, they often don’t realize that both play important roles in weaving. Some people can pick things up from a piece of paper and other people need to have a three dimensional example to look at. No way of learning is better than another, she said, but it saves a lot of energy and time to figure out what works best for an individual.  Teaching canoeing gave her plenty of practice. “I had to identify a learning style in about two minutes, she said, “or somebody would be wet.”


Donna Kallner: Ripple Effect

Part of being a good teacher, she said, is observation. You have to know when to let a student keep trying to figure something out and when to jump in before frustration leads to discouragement. You have to recognize when a student is “dithering,” afraid to make a mistake, and needs a nudge into forward momentum.

Her own learning has been a mix of working with skilled teachers like Jo Campbell-Amsler who taught her to make a basic ribbed willow basket back in the 1990s and wrestling with printed instructions as she did learning looping. “I did it wrong for at least a year,” she said.

Making baskets from natural materials and experimenting with looping have been the focus of Donna’s time since she and her husband closed the canoeing school.  She will be teaching looping at the conference including thread preparation by dyeing and painting.

As an instructor, Donna likes to emphasize getting a good foundation.  “Then everything else fall into place,” she explained.  Then people can experiment and discover new ways of using the techniques.  And they can make those wonderful mistakes on purpose.

“Wrong is a variation,” she said.  “And often it works.”

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