Origins of Wicker
The word ‘wicker’ is thought to be of Scandinavian origin, from wika, meaning ‘to bend’, and vikker,meaning ‘willow’, in Swedish. Wicker is not in itself a material; rather, the term is used as an overall classification for goods woven from any one of a variety of materials, including cane (rattan), bamboo, reeds, etc.
Basket-weaving has been, and is, intrinsic to many of the world’s cultures and is, in fact, one of the oldest and most widespread of human activities. Indeed, wickerwork is so much a part of the history of man that it is mentioned in the myths of many primitive societies.
Evidence of wicker production dates back to the Sumerian civilisation of 4000 BC. At that time, Sumerians used wicker for shelter and flooring, transportation, clothing, furnishings and even utensils.
Born in Egypt
The ancient Egyptians, ever resourceful, were creating wicker furniture by around 3000 BC, using the bladed grasses so ubiquitous on the banks of Nile and so strong when dried. These were used to produce some of the most beautiful intertwined furniture items the world has ever known.
On to Rome
The Romans transformed what began as an exotic Egyptian weave into something much more graceful, with straighter lines, more elegant curves and lighter colours. And the Romans took wicker a step further than their predecessors in terms of production too, creating swings, privacy screens, lounge-beds, hassocks and chairs from the material.
When wicker reached China (in the 15th century), that country was entering its ‘age of philosophy’. In Chinese hands, the weave of the wicker became smaller and finer and the material was used mostly to produce round storage bowls with lids and square storage boxes – an attempt to construct lightweight containers in which to store sacred writings.
Wicker in Africa
African wicker emerged just before the colonisation of the Americas. In African hands, weaving became looser, probably due to the lack of wicker supplies. In Africa, wicker was used primarily in war (woven warrior shields) rather than furniture.
To the Americas at Last
Wicker arrived in the Americas with the early settlers. There, it is believed, suitcases and storage trunks were initially the main items produced from wicker. Later, however, during the Victorian Age, there was a revival in its use and it took on new shapes and colours (mostly white). Beautiful tables, chairs, beds and cradles were produced at this time.
Today, wicker products can be found just about anywhere. Although the weaves have changed through the ages, wicker remains a timeless, elegant and beautiful look for the modern world. Imagine having a beautiful, hand-woven wicker coffin on display at the funeral of your loved one…not just unique but a natural ending.
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