From a wooden studio in East Sussex, Annemarie O’Sullivan explores the ancient craft of basketry. Weaving with willow, straw and coppiced wood, her craft can be “fairly traditional, but some of what I make is much wilder and out there”, she says.
The latter includes the architectural and sculptural forms commissioned earlier this year by London store The New Craftsmen, following a residency in Scotland’s Orkney islands. “I couldn’t make something tame, as the landscape there is so ridiculously raw,” says O’Sullivan, whose pieces are on display at the Mayfair boutique until the end of October. The massive, bristly Taet lamp (£10,500) is made from over 100 bundles of straw, inspired by the firehouse brushes at the Kirbuster Farm Museum in the northwest parish of Birsay, while the more unstructured Breck light (£2,400) is crafted from heather. “It looks as though it has blown off the landscape,” says Catherine Lock, co-founder and creative director of The New Craftsmen. “It brings the spirit of Orkney to life.”
A former Irish champion swimmer, O’Sullivan enjoys the physicality of her work, which she creates alongside her husband Tom McWalter. “I am really happiest when I’m working on bigger pieces, using my feet and standing on things, or kneeling and using my elbows. I generally do the weaving and Tom does the woodwork and construction elements. He also harvests the willow; we grow about 20 different types.”
The results have been featured at The Whitby Hotel in New York and shown at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, where large-scale lobster pots and fish traps were reinterpreted and woven from local willow. As a result, the number of commissions she receives is “sky-rocketing”, with bespoke requests ranging from laundry baskets (from £540) and oversized platters (from £500) to supersized woven willow pendant lights (POA), a number of which she recently created for a cottage in a remote Scottish location. “People who commission me are interested in the whole story and they ‘get’ the slowness of the work” – which, says O’Sullivan, can be anywhere between two and six months.