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Member Spotlight Series: Elisa Kessler Caporale

This month Membership Chairperson Katy Clements interviews professional basket maker Elisa Kessler Caporale for our Membership Spotlight Series. Elisa has been making baskets for 38 years! Though she weaves traditional baskets, Elisa is known for one-of-a-kind contemporary baskets which often incorporate found objects, paper, pottery and bark. A NYGH member since 2019, our guild met Elisa two decades ago when she presented her work to us in 2004:

An example of knotless netting

Elisa has also woven with cardboard cracker boxes and is currently working on a series of reed and copper tubing work. Recently she has begun to incorporate wearable knotless netting jewelry pieces in her work.

She also demonstrates throughout the Tri-State area and teaches locally at county TeenArts Programs, senior centers, elementary after-school programs, and the Newark Museum. She works as a guest artist at the Discover Charter School in Newark, NJ. which also incorporates a program for children with disabilities. Elisa says, “I love teaching… I’ve learned a great deal by teaching. I always pay attention to my students.” Noting that she always had trouble in school - "I was always told that I wasn't doing things the right way" - this has informed the way she teaches: “I always start, when I start a series of classes, to make it easy so people think it’s fun, and then when they get to the difficult part, they’re willing to put the time in because they’ve already had fun, and they know they can do it, and they know they can handle the material. Starting with anything too hard…it’s very discouraging.”

Elisa has a B.A. in Art History from Western College for Women, Oxford, OH and was a design assistant for Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich publishers after graduation. In 1998, she received a certificate in gerontology from Union County College, Cranford, NJ. She was a volunteer at the visitor's center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC for several years and worked on the children's programs for their centennial year. Her adult years as a student were a more positive experience: “I’ve learned from many teachers. I have a favorite type - a teacher who shows you what they do and then lets you take their knowledge and experiment with it. I find most of the basket makers very giving, very sharing.”

(Click arrow on righthand side of photo to see a closeup of the collage inside the sculpture)

Elisa took part in an Artists-in-Residence program at Newark Museum, which gave her a studio to work in exclusively for a month. “What I discovered was even working every day, I couldn’t make all the things that I wanted to make.”

Being true to one's way of creating is important. “I realize that these little quirks I have of shortcuts and things I think are silly are part of my creative process, that I’m not afraid to try something or do something." Elisa knows her way through trial, error, and time spent. "I’ve tried sketching out plans - it doesn’t work for me, because it seems to go wrong," she says. "Even if I have a sketch, I start building something up and I see something else out of it, and I’ve learned just go with it. It’s the way I am, it’s the way I work.”

To those starting out in fiber art, Elisa offers us valuable advice. “I would say do what makes you happy, because if it doesn’t make you happy, then it’s a job.” Broadening one's horizons leads to expanded creativity. “Experiment - take classes from as many different teachers as you can, different styles. If you think you’re traditional, then take a class with someone who does something contemporary. Go to conferences - just expose yourself to as much as possible.”

Being part of a guild is a great way to follow this advice. What does Elisa like about membership in the NYGH? “I think it’s the communication - the chance to meet with other people who have their resources, sharing resources… It makes you think, and then seeing our Show & Tell… With the newsletter we get great resources… It’s being with like-minded people who understand you and can say ‘that’s not a weird basket, that’s an interesting basket, or that’s an interesting way of weaving, I never would have done it that way.’”

During the Covid-19 lockdown in New York City, the NYGH shifted to meeting via Zoom and now conducts hybrid meetings, in-person and online, so all of our members can stay connected. Elisa found the Handweavers Guild of America's Textiles & Tea series and the Botanical Colors Feedback Friday videos helped keep her inspired through the pandemic. “Just the connection, and just seeing what people were doing, and just hearing people,” Elisa says. “Don’t isolate yourself.”

Elisa’s work will be in an upcoming exhibit:

May 10 - May 31, 2032

ROOTS - an open exhibition of works by members of the Textile Study Group of NY

Watch the Members Spotlight interview:


Basket weaver/Teacher mentioned:

John E. McGuire

Weaver mentioned:

Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez / Backstrap weaver from Peru

Conferences mentioned:

North Country Studio Workshops - Bennington, VT (Every two years)

New England Weavers’ Seminar

MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association)

Video Resources:

Handweavers Guild of America’s Textiles & Tea on YouTube

Botanical Colors’ Feedback Friday


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