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The Last Basketmaker: Indiana’s Forgotten History of Oak-Rod Baskets

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Jon Kay

Published May 2016 International Oaks No. 27: 233–244


White oak (Quercus alba) is one of the most common basketmaking materials in the upland southern region of the United States. Where most basketweavers use flat splits to construct their wares, during the 19th and 20th centuries, makers in Southern Indiana produced baskets out of thin oak splits that makers pulled through iron dies to render them round. Though similar in construction to many willow baskets, these distinctive oak-rod baskets were stronger and more durable, which made them ideally suited for heavy agricultural use. As these handmade containers became obsolete for farm work, makers looked to urban tourists to support their craft. This paper traces this history of Indiana’s oak-rod basket tradition, surveys some of the makers, and focuses on the work of Bruce Hovis (1904-1991) – one of Indiana’s last oak-rod basketmakers.


Southern Indiana traditions, Hovis family, Bohall family


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 –  –  – 1941. Ludlow Seeks Means of Preserving Simplicity of Brown County Natives. Indianapolis Star, January 13, 16.

Bustin, D.1982. If You Don’t Outdie Me: The Legacy of Brown County. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Byrd, C.K. 1993. Frank M. Hohenberger’s Indiana Photographs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Clark, C.A.1973. Transcript of interview with Howard Bruce Hovis, March 25, 1973. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Archive (unpublished).

Green, V. 1927. 3 Brown County Brothers Uphold Family Basket-Weaving Tradition. Indianapolis Star. May 15, 1927

Hohenberger, F.M. n.d. Frank Hohenberger Diary, Frank Hohenberger Collection Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington.

 –  –  – 1955. Nashville Observer, April 1955

 –  –  – 1952. Down in the Hills O' Brown County. Nashville, Indiana: Self-published.

 –  –  – 1924. Joe Bohall, Down in the Hills of Brown. Indianapolis Star, November 2.

Joyce, R.O. 1989. A Bearer of Tradition: Dwight Stump, basketmaker. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

Kay, J 2014. Oak-Rod Baskets in Brown County: Historic Photographs of a Craft Tradition. International Oaks 25: 85-92.

 –  –  – 2013 Episode 34: Cannon County Baskets a Tennessee Tradition. The Artisan Ancestors Podcast http://www.artisanancestors.com/2013/02/18/episode-34-cannon-county-baskets-a-tennessee-tradition/

 –  –  – 2010. A Picture of an Old Country Store: The Construction of Folklore in Everyday Life. Museum Anthropology Review 4 (2) https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/mar/article/view/914/1032

Lasansky, J. 1984. Pennsylvania-German Round-Rod Oak Baskets. Antiques 127(4): 886-95

 –  –  – 1979. Willow, Oak & Rye: Basket Traditions in Pennsylvania. University Park, PA: Keystone Books

Law, R.N., and C.W. Taylor. 1991. Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking: Handing Down the Basket Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Letsinger-Miller, L. 1994. The Artists of Brown County. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Morgan, M. 1973. Transcript of interview with Reuben Morgan, October 31. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Archive (unpublished)

Pomatto, C. 1973. Transcript of interview with Howard Bruce Hovis, December   2,. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Archive (unpublished).

Reeve, K.J., and H.H. Reeve. 1998. Henry Hovis in Family Studies of Brown County, Indiana (#113)

Stanton, G. 1975. The Tradition of Oak Rod Baskets in Southern Indiana (unpublished manuscript).