Reggie Kastler’s baskets could appear under the definition of “functional art” — a rather vague term encompassing everything from furniture to felted dresses, glassware to guitars.
Need a place to put soap?
She’s got a basket for that.
Looking for a beach chair bottle holder?
She’s got plenty.
A cleverly disguised laundry hamper?
From her Oak Harbor shed-turned-studio, Kastler creates baskets of all shapes, sizes and purposes using skinny fiber known as round reed that she hand dyes in a rainbow of colors.
All her items are sturdy, beautiful and useful or “aesthetic objects that serve utilitarian purposes,” as functional art is often defined.
Kastler sells her products and teaches basketweaving classes under the name Basket Works N.W. by Reggie. She moved to Whidbey from Redmond almost three years ago.
Color is Kastler’s trademark.
She also gives clever names to some creations, such as Dorky Door-Key Basket, 1999 Ugly Summer Drink Basket (long story) and T.P. Hamper to hold rolls of toilet paper.
“People coming by my booth call my signature style ‘happy’ or ‘an incredible color scheme,’” says Kastler, who’s made the rounds of farmers markets and art shows in Seattle, Redmond, Whidbey and other locations for decades.
“I started out with darker colors but then I heard from home stylists that bright colors were ‘in,’ so in 1995, I started making baskets in color themes.”
Purple and gold proved her most popular color duo at, where else, the University of Washington.
Preparing for an event on campus, she decided to make scores of “tailgating” flat round baskets with a wooden edge that perfectly fit one bag of chips. In Husky colors with tiny footballs painted along the rim, Kastler scored big time.
“In two days, I sold $5,000 worth of football baskets,” she says. “It was crazy.”
Kastler dyes the fiber using an outdoor sink and runoff area and then hangs the strings in batches to dry.
She’s active with the Whidbey Weavers Guild and a new group of artists called Island Bohemians. She recently donated some of her baskets to the Bohemian Ball fundraising raffle.
“The artists here are so welcoming,” she says, “and that’s not always the case.”
Kastler’s been weaving baskets for 30 years.
And it all started by accident.
Left badly injured with a broken back and neck from a jeep accident at age 28, doctors gave Kastler slim odds of surviving surgery or experiencing a return of feeling in her legs.
She not only proved them wrong, she gave birth. Twice.
Kastler eventually sought an artistic pursuit that was not too physically demanding because she still suffers back pain.
“My sister took a basket weaving class and showed me how to do it. I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that.’”
Kastler’s mother is an accomplished painter, “so I don’t have any trouble putting colors together,” she said. Her father was a carpenter and her grandfather was known for making weaving looms and spinning wheels.
Weaving keeps her moving and motivated.
“The doctors all say, ‘Don’t ever quit.’ I’m in pain every day. This is what keeps me going.”
Kastler’s studio is located next to her garage and house. In warmer weather, she often can be found working outside her studio on a small deck built by her husband, Alan Kastler. A red glass feeder attracts hummingbirds.
“I’ve been wanting to live here since I was 20 years old,” Kastler, 68, says of Whidbey Island. “All my dreams have come true.”
She enthusiastically described a typical day of last summer:
“My husband does whatever he does with classic cars in the garage. I sit here and weave. He comes and brings me lunch and we both sit here and enjoy the view of the water.”
Her studio is also on the self-guided year-round Whidbey Art Trail. (She’s No. 2 on the map.) Sponsored by the Whidbey Island Arts Council, the trail encourages the public to visit artists in their creative domain.
After years of setting up and selling at four markets a week and attending seasonal shows, Kastler is slowing down. She won’t be out and about as a vendor but she’ll instead encourage customers to come to her.
Exploring her “dream” island is part of her plan.
“We pick where we’re happy,” she says.
“For me, this is it.”
For more information: Basket Works N.W. by Reggie: www.reggiebasket.blogspot.com