Jennifer Heller Zurick is a self-taught artist specializing in black willow bark which she has been harvesting and weaving into baskets since 1973. She is the recipient of a United States Artists Fellowship and two Kentucky Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships. Zurick has traveled to Ecuador and Japan as a cultural exchange artist and was honored with a Kentucky 2017 Governor's Award in the Arts. Her work resides in a number of museum collections, including the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and has won prizes and awards at national shows and exhibitions. She has exhibited her baskets internationally and created special commissions for Spanish firm Loewe (2019 Salone del Mobile Milano) and Irthi Contemporary Craft Council in Sharjah, UAE (2019 London Design Fair).
"I live in the Kentucky foothills near Berea with my husband, Dave. The joy of stepping out of my home and into the beauty of our garden and forested creek valley nourishes my creative spirit and enhances my life and work in countless ways. The willow tree bark I weave grows from the Kentucky soil. The Kentucky River is the waterway I navigate to locate those trees. The gardens I plant and nurture in the spring and summer, the wood fire I tend for warmth in winter and the sounds and fragrances of the forest that surrounds my home and studio are the organic elements in my life that seem inseparable from my work and the spirit it possesses.
When not weaving or gardening I may be traveling with my husband whose work as a geographer has taken us to fascinating places around the world. These travels have enabled me to observe a woman in Laos process bamboo and weave her household a chicken cage, and visit with an old man in the Himalayan Mountains as he slowly manipulated bamboo into a sturdy pack basket. I've enjoyed the extraordinary experience of weaving with a Tharu villager in the steamy jungle region of Nepal, and the opportunities to learn traditional coiling technique from a young Balinese girl and palm leaf weaving from a Polynesian craft artist. Harvesting, processing and weaving local basketry fiber with a Shuar Indian in the lush Ecuadorian Amazon provided the highlight of a trip to South America. These unique experiences have served to enhance my knowledge of indigenous weaving traditions while introducing me to rich and colorful cultures where basketry still serves many important functions in people's daily lives.
Native American basketry strongly influences my work, but I am intrigued and inspired by fine basketry and textiles from many cultures. I've been manipulating fiber since a young girl when I discovered inkle-loom weaving, later graduating to working off a large floor loom. I built up a small herd of sheep and for many years enjoyed raising, processing and weaving their soft fleeces. Interspersed with my hand-weaving projects I began experimenting with basketry and the various fibers available for harvesting in my area. Willow bark became my fiber of choice and woven vessels have evolved into my predominate mode of creative expression. Rhythmic and calming, fiber manipulation centers me while ever-so -slowly building the tension and excitement of a fulfilling form. Thoughtfully created woven vessels may radiate an interwoven living essence of fiber and maker. I aspire for my baskets to possess this quality."