Oamaru has the distinction of attracting a good number of artisans to set up shop in the town and surrounds, where the appreciation of heritage and craftsmanship suit them well, and where they can find both fellow craftsmen and customers to help them hone and ply their crafts.
Just outside of Oamaru, in the coastal hamlet of Kakanui, this trend continues, where craftspeople have set up their studios amongst the fields that produce some of the country’s most sought-after produce (a Kakanui tomato is a thing of beauty!). One artisan who has set up shop at his beautiful homestead in Kakanui is Mike Lilian, with his Windwillow Basketry. Mike has been crafting traditional willow baskets for nearly three decades, using all-natural willow that he grows on several farms in Otago and Canterbury, and creating true works of art that are not only beautiful look at, but that also are highly useful and completely sustainable.
If you were to visit Mike’s home-studio, you would be struck right away by the sheer number of projects that he has worked on, and the number of baskets of all shapes that he has produced. You would of course see the usual things–baskets for taking along to the farmers’ market, or to carry a few bottles of wine, or take on a picnic–but you’d also see some more unusual things, too. Probably the most unusual are the large rectangular willow boxes that resemble nothing so much as a coffin. Well, that’s because that’s what they are, the ultimate in sustainability, these coffins are pre-ordered by people who want to have as little impact on the environment after they have left this mortal coil as they did while they were on it. Many customers, we’re told, use them as coffee tables until they’re, erm, needed.
In addition to the standard baskets that you could buy and take home with you, Mike also produces something a bit more specialised. Interior designers have begun to commission Mike to make custom-sized drawer systems for installation in kitchens, bathrooms, work areas, and other rooms of newly built and remodeled homes, where the flexibility of the material allows him to make the baskets fit any space at all.
If you’re in the Oamaru area, Mike’s studio is well worth a visit, and if you’re looking for a creative way to add some rustic charm to your home, perhaps a willow basket drawer set will do the trick. Mike’s website has all the information you need!