August 2007.  The Enchanted--Tree Climbers Series II, pastel painting by Diana Blazak.

Featured Artist: Janet Bonnell

The idea of anyone turning pine needles into an art form seems far fetched until one sees Janet Bonnell’s pine needle baskets, whereupon it becomes immediately apparent why she won the Sault Summer Art Festival’s Best of Crafts Award in both 2005 and 2006, the only years she entered. She’s in again this year, and in the Alberta House Shop as well, where she will be demonstrating in August.

It’s hard to believe, but Janet Bonnell is self-taught and has only been making her baskets for four years. She began on a whim with a kit, bought a book and the rest is history. She gathers and prepares the needles herself. The basket bottoms can be sliced agates, birch bark, wood, sea shells . . . some of them have a wood burned design, which she also does herself. The sliced black walnut shells incorporated into some of the baskets are prepared by her husband, Pat. Though she has no formal training, the work is exquisite; the stitches are beautifully executed and are a vital part of the design. She says that the time spent on a basket depends more on the type and amount of stitching required than it does on the size of the basket.

Janet says that the art of coiling baskets is an ancient one, practiced by many indigenous people. The pine needles used must be at least four inches long and must be softened by soaking before using. Janet uses the needles of the southern long leaf pine, which she gathers herself on a yearly trip to North Carolina, and those of the Ponderosa pine, which she and her husband gather near their winter residence in Prescott, Arizona. The only other materials required are needle-nose pliers (to pop the cap off the needle), a piece of tubing to be used as a gauge for the coil, a pair of scissors, a needle, and waxed thread or artificial sinew. The basket bottoms, which are the starting point for the basket, have holes drilled in them to stitch through or are set in resin, which has the holes drilled in it. Handles are usually incorporated into the basket. The finished work is coated with polyurethane.

Janet was born and raised in Michigan and is a retired Iosco County Equalization Director. She and her husband have had a cabin on Sugar Island for fourteen years, and are there from the middle of April until the end of October. Their permanent home is in Whittemore, but they spend their winters in Arizona. Her work can be found in the Alberta House Shop, at the Sault Summer Arts Festival, at the Tawas Bay Art Gallery, at the Fourth Street Gallery in West Branch, at Sturgeon River Pottery in Petoskey, at the Chippewa County Historical Society, and on her website (

She will be demonstrating in Alberta House August 3, 17, and 24 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Works by Janet Bonnell
Click on a thumbnail to see a larger version.

Pine needle basket with sea shells by Janet Bonnell.  Click for a larger version.

The difference between art and craft: notice how the stitching on this
basket echoes the natural
markings on the seashells

Pine needle basket with agate by Janet Bonnell.  Click for a larger version.

Once again, the natural pattern
of the agate slice is echoed
in the stitching to create
a balanced, integrated whole.

Pine needle basket with antler trim by Janet Bonnell.  Click for a larger version.

Pine needle basket with antler trim

Last updated: August 1, 2007

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: Phone: (906) 635-1312