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Recharge, relax, relearn/Brooke Munro @ Dirty Janes Bowral

You are never too old or young to try your hand at something creative, and we are spoilt for choice with so many talented artists living and teaching in the Highlands. Alex Speed spends three cathartic hours with weaver Brooke Munro, learning the basics of the ancient craft of basket-making.

The trick about going along to a workshop and learning something new is not to be hard on yourself. Place the bar too high by expecting to walk away with a gallery-worthy piece, and you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Go along with the express purpose of enjoying yourself and learning what you can, and you’ll have a fabulous morning.

That is my approach, anyway, as I prepare for my first ever workshop experience; a three-hour affair with weaver Brooke Munro, ‘Basket-making using hidden core coiling technique’. Brooke is one-half of creative duo Mr & Mrs Munro. Husband Colin is the second, and together they create beautiful raw pieces of furniture, sculptural basketry, and objects from wood and pieces uncovered on their Wildes Meadow property.

The session is at the fabulous Dirty Janes in Bowral, which has an ongoing schedule of such workshops. It also recently welcomed its first artist in residence Corrine Dany. I arrive happy and relaxed one Saturday with no presumptions of uncovering any hidden artistic talent, but determined to take what I can from the morning. Dirty Janes is home to the largest vintage markets in the Southern Highlands, with more than 75 dealers. It sells all manner of treasures from furniture to collectables to jewellery, and if you are keen on shopping or pottering about, this is a wonderful place to come. Wonderful but a bit dangerous. Especially as it incorporates Maureen and Chris Gardners’ new Green Lane precinct, and Suzie Anderson Home. Dirty Janes is to shopping fiends what chocolate peanuts are to chocolate peanut lovers. Irresistibly moreish.

Workshops are held upstairs in the Magpie Room and are intimate, warmed by the morning sun, and furnished with morning tea by the fabulous Tea Salon downstairs. Brooke was taught by the late Virginia Kaiser, one of Australia’s best known basket-makers, and she soon has the nine participants, some local like me, others from further-away Kiama and the Blue Mountains, weaving with a traditional ‘long and short’ stitch. Wrap, wrap, wrap, stitch.

Basket-weaving has experienced a renaissance of late in the move to sustainable products and people’s desire to get back to Nature. Brooke is a skilled and patient tutor with a warm and engaging manner that inspires confidence. Three hours magically disappear into the ether as the hand-dyed raffia she supplies begins to metamorphose into the beginnings of a basket. Well, for most participants, that is. Looking up from my weaving efforts, I feel alarm as my creation resembles neither the woman’s on my left nor the one on my right. That is until a very welcome comment comes from the front of the class.

‘I like what you are doing with that, Alex. It looks very organic,’ Brooke says, before gently agreeing with my hopeful assertion it may suit better as a wall-hanging.

Talent, kindness and diplomacy. Now that’s my kind of artistic teacher.


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