PEMBROKE — Loretta and Herman Oxendine’s longleaf pine needle baskets are woven so tightly the baskets seem impenetrable.
The couple painstakingly creates containers that are strong enough for household utility but beautiful enough to display as art.
Loretta, who grew up in the Prospect community, wove her first basket at age 8 after she saw an older sister weaving a basket.
“In the summertime there comes a time when you have a few days where there’s nothing to do. I and my sisters would find something to do — as long as we stayed out of the house from mom’s way, we were fine,” Oxendine said. “We were watching my sister make a basket one day, a small one, so the next day we had nothing to do. We couldn’t think of anything to play so I said, ‘Let’s make a pine needle basket.’ So we went into the house and stole mama’s needle and some regular sewing thread.”
The pine needles are woven horizontally while the sewing thread is stitched vertically. She likes to use heavier twine that had been used to tie tobacco sticks on tobacco farms. At one time in the Lumbee tribe’s history, all Lumbee women made pine needle baskets, Oxendine said.
She didn’t make another basket until after she had finished college. She and Herman married in 1965, and she taught while he worked at Sears. They started a family. Eventually she took up weaving again by incorporating it with her classes.
As a fifth-grade teacher at Piney Grove Elementary School, Oxendine challenged her students to learn how to weave pine needle baskets.
“I told them if they’d bring pine needles, a needle and thread on Monday, we will make a pine needle basket,” Oxendine said. “Over the course of that week, everybody in that classroom made a small pine needle basket.”
She began weaving again when Herman was recuperating from heart surgery. She enrolled them both in an art class and the topic of basket weaving was discussed. They went home and started weaving.
“The first one looked terrible,” she said. “Then we made another one. We finally made three or four before we got one that was suitable to take to class.”
Their teacher encouraged them and they began producing enough to sell. A basket can take from between five hours, if it is small, or up to 50 hours to weave, she said.
Following Herman’s interest, the couple took a pottery course. They dug clay from the banks of the Lumber River, and learned how to pit fire it. They leave their pottery with its natural color instead of painting it.
Herman has enjoyed exploring his creative side — something he’s carried with him since childhood.
“I guess I always had that artistic interest, even growing up,” Herman said. “We had to make our own play toys. It started then I guess. It’s something I always wanted to do.”
He doesn’t use a pottery wheel but shapes the clay into a ball, then pounds out the air bubbles. Then it’s a matter of pinching out the shape of the pot.
“In the very beginning you’re preparing it for the fire,” Herman said. “Certain things — if you don’t do, it’s likely to crack and bust in the fire.”
Larger pots can be made by using clay that is in the shape of a coil. Preferring a natural finish, the Oxendines rub the clay with a stone to give it a shine.
“The last thing you do is put a design on and then you set it up for at least three weeks. You have to set aside a day when you don’t have anything else to do to burn it,” Herman said.
As he patiently explains the pottery-making process, it is clear that although his wife is the retired school teacher, Herman also enjoys sharing his knowledge with others.
The Oxendines are available for pottery- and basket-making demonstrations. Call 910-521-9991 for information.
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.