Bessie D. Johnson. Master Basket Weaver. Artist.
Bessie is a distinguished basket weaver and artist who blends a rich cultural heritage and contemporary artistic vision to create her own unique art form using pine needles and other natural materials.
A Mississippi native, Bessie Johnson became fascinated with the art of basket weaving while watching her father weave chair seats and baskets using natural materials. She felt a special kinship with the earth and its inhabitants.
Over the past 30-plus years, Bessie has learned to blend a rich cultural heritage and contemporary artistic vision to create her own unique art form using pine needles, gourds, corn shucks and other natural materials.
Bessie uses long leaf pine needles which grow along the southern border of the Gulf states. A special decorating technique used in her pine needle baskets is a wheel or ring made from the cross-section of sliced black walnuts. Her most beautiful pieces of pine needle work contain one or more wheels of various sizes.
Bessie’s baskets have been praised for their remarkable symmetry, beauty and innovative style. Her achievement as a craftsperson and designer of basketry has brought her increasing distinction and prominence in this field.
Bessie Johnson has been very active teaching and presenting her work to the community. She has been awarded grants to teach both children and the elderly. She has taught classes at elementary schools and at colleges, such as Mississippi University for Women's Life Enrichment Program .
Bessie has also worked as a master artist with the Mississippi Arts Commission Apprentice Program teaching her basketweaving.
The charter member of the Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi, Bessie has earned widespread recognition and numerous awards at major art shows and festivals. Bessie and her amazing work have been in the spotlight in both print and broadcast media, locally and nationally.
In 2017, she was an artisan featured on Handcrafted America on the INSP cable television network. Bessie has exhibited and demonstrated at the 1984 World's Fair in Louisiana. She was chosen to design and create ornaments for the Mississippi Christmas tree in the circle of state trees displayed at the White House throughout the 1994 holiday season.
Bessie has won many awards including the Governor's Award for Arts Excellence in 2010.
"Weaving baskets with native Mississippi materials takes me back to some of my dearest childhood memories. I consider this to be an artistic link to my African forefathers. It is as much of my family's legacy as any genetic inheritance."
"Every time I create a basket, I give new life to a craft that is age-old."