Stephen Zeh, Basketmaker

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Stephen Zeh carving a basket handle at his shaving horse


Stephen Zeh Basketmaker

The baskets I make are from brown ash trees which I find in the northern Maine forests. In my work I use the tools (drawknife, shaving horse, ax, froe, hornbeam maul, knife) and methods (hand-splitting, pounding, hand-scraping, carving, green-bending) of the Maine woodsmen, Shakers, and Native American basketmakers.

I learned to make baskets during years spent on the trapline in the Maine woods. Later Eddie Newell, a Penobscot Indian basketmaker, taught me many things about the art of basketmaking. The wood I use, brown ash, has beautiful, subtle tones. Hand scraping enhances and brings out the beauty and natural sheen of the wood. The pliant quality of the brown ash makes working the form and detail of my baskets possible, both in the weaving, and in the hand-carved rims and handles.

Stephen Zeh carving a basket handle at his shaving horse

Only one in one hundred brown ash trees has the right grain and flex to make these baskets. I hand select each tree to obtain the highest quality wood. Through craftsmanship and design, and with the help of only one highly trained assistant (my wife, Tammy), I hand craft each basket so that it will last for generations. As it ages, a basket made in this way will acquire a rich, natural patina and become even more beautiful though the years.

Most recently I have been working with precious metals. I developed my basket designs in high carat gold and sterling silver into wearable and collectible miniatures. As with my baskets, my focus is on the very highest quality in materials and beauty of design.

I have also been doing some wood working building presentation boxes for gifts and display cases for collectors to show their baskets, jewelry, collectibles, and other small works of art. I use hand cut dovetails and mortise and tenon joinery for the presentation box and display cabinets.