From Maine Antique Digest (July 1998)
A Book Review
A Look at Creels
by Jackson Parker
In my many years of reporting on fishing tackle auctions for M.A.D., I learned that rods and reels were the meat and potatoes of these events. My problem was staying awake through 50 to 100 lots of each. After the classics were sold for four and sometimes five figures, my interest in the successive lesser rods and reels flagged, and my eyes gazed over.
My interest, however, was always renewed by the artwork, the fish carvings, and especially the creels, those artfully contrived baskets that held the angler's fish and "stuff" on his or her hip. Judging by the comparatively low prices for creels at these auctions, I thought they were appreciated and consequently undervalued.
Then, a short time ago, creels with the "Turtle Trade Mark" peaked at four figures and shortly after backed off. It made me wonder whether creel collectors knew what they were doing.
Now with the publication of The Art of the Creel, I found a new world of over 200 creels that were far superior to any I ever saw at auction, and I concluded that creel collectors knew what they were doing. They were trading amongst themselves for the splendid creels pictured in this book and passing up the lesser creels at auction.
The genesis of this book was the authors' decision to acquire the considerable creel collection of Daryl Whitehead, to whom this book is dedicated. They drew upon this collection and 17 others to present over 200 of the finest creels we have ever seen.
'The photography is done imaginatively by Gretchen Duykers, who posed these beauties against appropriate natural backgrounds, producing what they call a "photographic prospective" of the subject. The creels are shown in color throughout with no skimpy color sections. It's all color except for an occasional black-and-white photo here and there.
I thought I knew creels after studying them at auction previews, but I had no idea the art of the creel was so advanced until I read this book, which has an appeal not only for fishing tackle collectors but also for collectors of Native American artifacts Shaker baskets, and baskets in general. There's even a baleen creel that should be of interest to whaling aficionados.
The book open with Izaak Walton calling his creel "fish pannier" in the first edition of The Compleat Angler (1653), and it records the very first depiction of a creel nine years later in the frontispiece of Robert Venable's The Experienced Angler.
The first creels shown are by the Native Americans of the West Coast and Eastern woodlands, and they live up to the book's tittle because they are truly works of basketry art, particularly in their inventiveness and designs.
The bulk of the book, however, is about the creels imported from Asiatic countries, mostly from Japan and China, that had leather applied--to protect against wear and tear--by companies located mostly in Portland, Oregon (Lawrence, McMonies, Clark, etc.). They are impressive examples of craftsmanship but not what I would classify as art. In time, they were put out of business by Asian imports of already leathered creels. The authors point out that many of the thousands of baskets makers in the U.S. made creels that were sold commercially but were not identified as to maker. Among them are the Shaker communities that made baskets and creels.
European creels are covered, especially those of the U.K.(Hardy, Farlow, McPhearson, etc.) and Asian creels (mostly from Japan, which began making creels circa 1900). There is even coverage of metal creels (all metal or wicker with metal case on top) and and account of contemporary makers such as Whitehead and Mariner.
It's the first book on the subject, and as such it is most welcome. I knew I liked creels before I read it, and now I know why. It was an enjoyable read, although I found the text somewhat sketchy. The first thing I did when I opened this book was to look up Turtle, the brand that shook up the auction market a short time ago, but all I learned was that the Turtle baskets were made in Korea and came in three styles; I would have liked to know more. Nonetheless, the splendid "photographic perspective" more than made up for it.