Straw art here to stay

By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Straw tends to have a bad reputation. In metaphors, it breaks the camel’s back and for the three little pigs it proves to be a less than ideal building material. But what most don’t know is that straw is actually a sign of good luck. “Centuries ago people took the best part of their crop and made art out of it to give to friends,” said Carol Thompson, a Lincoln resident and treasurer of the California Straw Arts Guild, which is holding its 20th convention in Auburn later this month. “It was supposed to shed blessings and luck on the family and at the beginning of the next crop cycle, they had the seeds to start a new crop.” Keeping the tradition alive, the California Straw Arts Guild is a group of straw artists from all over the state who gather once a year for their annual convention to share tricks, techniques and straw treasures they have crafted. This year, the convention will be held at the Powers Mansion Inn in Auburn and is themed “Victorian Tussie Mussie.” “We don’t have to stick to the theme, but there will be a lot of Victorian-era straw pieces there, very frou-frou and floral,” Thompson said. Straw art is a global tradition with techniques and styles that vary depending on era and origin. For example, Victorian-era straw art looks different from regions like eastern Europe, Great Britain and the Netherlands. “You can tell the old English style because they left the heads on the straw,” said Granite Bay resident and straw artist Linda Downs. “You won’t find that in eastern European pieces because they needed the heads to plant.” Downs has been creating straw art pieces for about 30 years adding to her many other talents as an artist. Although she dabbles in all types of styles Belarusian has proven to be her favorite for its miniscule and elaborate details. A straw box resembling a miniature hatbox at 10 inches tall and 8 inches in diameter, sits on display on Downs’ piano. One of her favorite pieces to date, the straw box is done completely in Belarusian style with intricate braided flowers and leaves and Swiss straw loops. Throughout the year other Placer County straw artists will gather and work on pieces, share new straw materials and discover new crafting techniques. “Not a lot of people do straw art anymore so it’s really up to us to learn and teach each other how to make the things we see in books or museums,” said Tricia Wright, a Loomis resident who is known in her family for her gifts of straw wall hangings, jewelry and figures. “My niece got married and I gave her a wall hanging of two doves kissing with a heart around it,” Wright said. “But there’s all sorts of things I’ll make for people, that’s the great part of straw (art), there’s no limitations to what you can do.” Tradition is another thing that keeps the women active in straw artwork, a form they say is dying even in origin countries because of modern technology. “That’s what I think is so amazing about straw art,” Thompson said. “It’s a link to the past and keeping a tradition alive.” Megan Wood can be reached at Info Box: What: 2010 California Straw Arts Guild Convention When: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21 Where: Powers Mansion Inn, 195 Harrison Ave. Auburn Saturday- Make and Take booth 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Trade Show 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Beginner Classes 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Sunday Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced classes ongoing 9 a.m- 4:30 p.m.