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Woven Straw Flower Basket

Curated Submission
Zelma, Saskatchewan
Circa 1925
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
21 x 18
Materials & techniques
Wheat straw, wood, glass; Hand-woven
Made by A.R. Rhodes
Saskatchewan Western Development Museum WDM-1973-S-16651
From religious custom in ancient Egypt to harvest celebrations in Saskatchewan, wheat weaving has evolved into a delicate art. It came to Saskatchewan in the hearts and hands of early 20th-century agrarian immigrants who created both ornate decorations and useful objects. A.R. Rhodes and his wife came to Canada in 1905 to a homestead north of Zelma, Saskatchewan. A hard-working and tenacious man, Rhodes built both the couple’s first home, a sod shack, and their second, a stone house. For the stone house, he used rocks picked from his own fields. Rhodes was well known in the area for his many hobbies, including gardening, painting, and wheat weaving.
The process of wheat weaving begins with the fall harvest and the selection of each straw stalk. While a field of wheat may look uniform, plant stems may differ in both circumference and length. In addition each stem tapers naturally toward the head, making a perfectly even product difficult. Once selected, the fragile stalks are soaked in water to make them pliable. From there, wheat straw weaving requires patience, creativity, and heart. As with most arts, basic techniques may be easy to learn, but mastery takes practice and talent.
Each piece is unique, its shape influenced by both artist and material. The wheat Rhodes chose to work with has a particular significance to Saskatchewan: he used a variety called Marquis. Introduced in 1909 and first tested at the Dominion Experimental Farm in Indian Head, Saskatchewan, this early ripening variety of wheat soon replaced other varieties. By 1915 80% of the wheat grown in Saskatchewan was Marquis. When the nearby town of Watrous learned that it would be honoured with a brief stop by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on their 1939 tour, Rhodes was asked to create a unique gift for the Royals. The flower basket he created was reportedly the Queen’s favourite gift of the tour. Worked into the pattern were maple leaves, a rose, a thistle, and a crown.
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