Billie Ruth Sudduth

Basket-making

Basketry is actually Billie Ruth Sudduth’s second career. She spent almost twenty years as a school psychologist. In 1983, after a particularly demanding year, her boss suggested she do something for “fun” over the summer. Knowing of Billie Ruth’s love of baskets, it was suggested she take a basket making class at the local community college. The four Monday night sessions cost twenty dollars but totally changed her life. After fifteen minutes in that class, she knew she had found her life’s work. The early years were demanding because she maintained her professional career, was a wife and mother of two sons. Sixteen hour plus workdays became the norm and cooking and housework became extinct, indeed arts lost in favor of a new art form.

In 1989, Billie Ruth left her career to pursue basketry full time. It is appropriate that her baskets became mathematically based, having spent her professional career with testing, measurements, statistics, and math. Ironically, as a high school and college student, she hated math. She met Fibonacci, a thirteenth century mathematician, while teaching a “Math in a Basket Class” in a middle school. Incorporating Fibonacci numbers and the Nature Sequence in all her baskets created a style that was immediately identifiable and captured the attention of museum curators and collectors alike.

Fibonacci discovered that the same proportions occur in spirals throughout nature, whether it is the spirals in seashells, flower petals, the caps of acorns, or pineapples. The distance between the proportions approximates the golden mean or the golden ratio, which has unified design since ancient Greece. This discovery had a profound impact on the world of art, music, and architecture. Michelangelo used the proportions in creating the statue of David; Bartok used the numbers and ratios in his music, and Frank Lloyd Wright in his architecture. Billie Ruth Sudduth uses the proportions, ratios, and numbers in her baskets. When responding to her work, you are responding to the same proportions that occur throughout nature. The weaving uses a mathematical structure of spiral growth found in nature to create baskets with a rhythmic, naturally flowing design. She does not separate herself from nature but through her weaving affirms being a part of it. Billie Ruth is currently pursuing chaos theory, fractals, and sacred geometry and incorporating that research into her basketry.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. Billie Ruth’s baskets are now in the collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Art and Design in New York, Charles A. Wustum Museum of Fine Art in Racine, Wisconsin, the Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, the Asheville Art Museum, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama. They are also included in numerous corporate and private collections. Her highest honor came in 1997 when she was named a Living Treasure by the State of North Carolina. This award, presented to one craftsperson every other year, is the state’s highest honor in the field of crafts. She was the tenth recipient of this award and the first and only female to be honored. In 2002, she was awarded the Alumni Achievement Award by her undergraduate alma mater, Huntingdon College and in 2005, the President’s Medal for Achievement. In 2004-2005, she was awarded an Individual Visual Artist Fellowship by the North Carolina Arts Council. She has been selected to exhibit at the prestigious Smithsonian Craft Show for the past twelve years.

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