MOUNT VERNON — Katherine Lewis is what you might call an artisan.
She and her husband, Steven Lospalluto, own Dunbar Gardens, just west of Mount Vernon, where they grow willow trees, which are then harvested, dried for at least a year, and resoaked for Lewis to transform into handmade baskets; used for practical and artistic purposes.
“It’s a very traditional European style of basketry,” Lewis said. “There’s something about being able to make this container…I just love doing it.”
Lewis is so renowned for her baskets, her work caught the attention of a national collector, Steven R. Cole, who then wanted to feature her baskets as part of an exhibit being featured in the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
The exhibit, “A Measure of the Earth: The Cole-Ware Collection of American Baskets,” was set to open Oct. 4. Last week, Lewis and Lospalluto made the trip to the other Washington for the exhibit’s opening — only to be thwarted by the partial government shutdown.
“It was obviously not happening,” Lewis said. “Many of us traveled all the way to D.C. and to not be able to see this….”
Because of the shutdown, national landmarks and parks across the country — including the Smithsonian — are not open for business as usual, meaning Lewis and her fellow artists were unable to experience the gallery’s opening. It’s an unusual effect of the government shutdown, which has had far-reaching impacts across the country.
“There are worse things happening to other people, but here’s a unique experience,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who met with Lewis and Lospalluto last week when it became clear that the couple would not be able to attend the opening. “I can count on one hand the number of people from the district who have had anything exhibited in the Smithsonian.”
While they could not attend the exhibit’s official opening, Lewis said they did attend a party at Cole’s house where they met some of the other artists and saw photos of their work and the exhibit.
“We’re the ‘make the best of it’ type,” Lewis said. “We had a good time in D.C., it was just not the time we anticipated on having.”
Complicating the couple’s trip was the fact that they arrived in D.C. to see the sights the day before the exhibit’s scheduled opening, which happened to be the day that a woman was shot and killed by police after she led them on a car chase through some of the city’s main routes.
Despite her the chaos, Larsen said Lewis was in good spirits when they met.
“She isn’t in the basket-weaving business to have her stuff in the Renwick Gallery,” Larsen said. “She’s an artisan, she loves what she’s doing and she’s going to continue doing it.”
The exhibit is scheduled to run through Dec. 8, assuming Congress resolves the budgetary stalemate now entering its second week. Assuming the gallery reopens before the exhibit’s closure, both Larsen and Lewis said they intended on visiting the gallery to see Lewis’ work on display.
“I think I may just have to go back,” Lewis said. “It made me really want to see the show in person.”
The Renwick Gallery is scheduled to close on Dec. 9 for renovations that will last until 2016.