Heart in a handbasket

Thanks to her insatiable hands-on creativity, Sharon Gunter is one of Sandpoint’s most versatile artisan crafters

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Sharon Gunter’s booth at the Farmers’ Market at Sandpoint is usually a bright, colorful landmark at the main entrance to Farmin Park. Between the selection of tie-dyed apparel; painted textiles; and intricately hand-woven, antler-handled baskets, Gunter offers an impressive and visually pleasing selection of crafts.

For the artisan herself, the market is a chance to interact with “all walks of life.”

Sharon Gunter with her usual smile at her Farmers’ Market booth. Photo by Sandpoint Farmers’ Market

“I call it my social Saturday, and sometimes I make money,” Gunter said with a laugh.

The 2020 market — now located in the city parking lot on Church Street to allow for better social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic — has yet to see Gunter’s colorful booth and consistent smile. Gunter said she is waiting until she feels comfortable, though she does plan to bring her business — known as The Basket Case — to the market at some point this summer.

“My booth is very tactile,” she said, adding that browsing through dyed fabrics and baskets requires hands-on investigation not well suited for pandemics. 

“I want you to pick it up. I want you to feel the basket. I sell stuff that needs to be touched,” she added.

Gunter’s day-to-day gig is as the art teacher at Farmin-Stidwell Elementary, so when schools transitioned to distance learning in March, she turned to her home studio to do some organizing that she would have normally postponed until summer vacation. She said it’s been a good way to spend her days during what has often felt like a “chaotic” time.

Gunter’s handcrafted baskets. Photo by Sharon Gunter.

Gunter’s interest in basket weaving took hold in 1978, when she first moved to Sandpoint. She said a neighbor brought over cookies in a handmade basket, and when Gunter expressed interest in the container, the woman offered to teach her how to make her own.

“Baskets will always be a love,” Gunter said, though she admitted that making baskets isn’t as easy as it used to be. “The hands know that I’ve been weaving for this many years.”

Gunter said the three-dimensional and utilitarian nature of basket making is what draws her to the art.

“If I make a basket, even if it’s just going to sit on the hearth, it’s going to hold up,” she said. “You’re still going to be able to use it if you want to.”

Gunter said her desire to continue creating isn’t a want — “It’s a need.”

“I get weird if I’m not making something,” she said. “I don’t care even if it’s just at school and it’s just a little watercolor. There’s that satisfaction of making something and creating something.”

Making things and then sharing them with others is at the heart of Gunter’s philosophy. She recalls a couple that once came through her booth and admired her work, though they admitted that they’d been trying to get rid of all the “stuff” they’d collected over the years. They didn’t buy anything from Gunter, but did ask her questions. She said their curiosity about the process and appreciation for the work made her feel good. 

“It’s fun to be able to share that with people who are interested,” she said. “That’s what keeps me going, because I love making stuff.”

Learn more about Gunter’s work at sharonsbasketry.com. Contact her at [email protected].

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