Flechtmuster Ausschnitt

Old Craft - Contemporary Look

Inspired by an old pattern for a baby rattle, this attisan creates award winning objects.

When her old teach­er briefly shows vari­ous his­tor­ic­al braid­ing tech­niques during her train­ing, Monika is fas­cin­ated by a pat­tern that was used for french baby rattles. She researches fur­ther inform­a­tion and tries out how she can change and modify the basic prin­ciple of braid­ing. For her final jour­ney­wo­man piece, she designs a braided room divider using her new tech­nique. Other designs emerge from this idea and her enthu­si­asm for braid­ing with willow.

The willow objects are cre­ated from her feel­ing for the craft and the mater­i­al. There is no stand­still in her work­ing life. She exper­i­ments with col­or­ing peeled willow branches. The result is a silver-grey color and an anthra­cite. Togeth­er with the honey colour, the red­dish or green tone of the unpeeled wil­lows, bowls, garden objects and bas­kets are cre­ated with their own flair, which she makes in her work­shop in the Palat­in­ate.

Design awards - and 'bread and butter' work

Monika wins sev­er­al design awards with the rein­ter­pret­a­tions to her craft, most recently the 2019 ‘State Award for the Art&Craft Move­ment - Rhein­land-Pfalz” for her flex­ible object bas­kets. She is delighted with the recog­ni­tion and explains to me with a smile:

"That's nice, but I don't earn my basic income with it. Even though my work can be found in the shops of museums. My cus­tom­ers come to the mar­kets and buy my dragon­flies and garden spheres. There­fore I sit here and make 50 dragon­flies for sale today. And every wing will be per­fect!"

The pride of making spe­cial products with her hands, but also work­ing care­fully on her small batches, is import­ant to her. To touch and feel the wil­lows, to per­ceive the dif­fer­ent smells, yes there are wil­lows that smell of plums or frankin­cense, or honey.  Monika still enjoys these sen­su­al impres­sions.

It really does exist – career selection via aptitude test

Even during her first state exam­in­a­tion to become a teach­er, Monika knows that this was not her call­ing. Taxi­derm­ist, that might fit. At the career inform­a­tion center she hap­pens to take a job aptitude test and the result is: basket and wick­er­work design­er.

 “Out of curi­os­ity, I looked at old black-and-white films there that were sup­posed to explain the pro­fes­sion. You could see grand­pas weav­ing bas­kets. But some­thing about it intrigued me. I then did an intern­ship in a work­shop for dis­abled people. The German system sets up these work­places with suit­able and thera­peut­ic­al hand­craft, work­ing with wicker is one of them. After that it was clear to me: this is my thing.”

Monika does her 3-year appren­tice­ship with the sub­sequent qual­i­fic­a­tion as a master crafts­wo­man at the world's only tech­nic­al Art&Craft school for wick­er­work design in Lichten­fels, Ger­many. The school offers her a teach­ing pos­i­tion straight away, and she reforms some parts of the edu­ca­tion to give great­er import­ance to design and draft­ing. She also starts design­ing and pro­du­cing her han­di­crafts, selling them at fairs and mar­kets.

Back home in the Palatinate area - what now?

Monika is drawn back to the Palat­in­ate, but for her job she needs a work­shop and a stor­age room. As a stop­gap, the living room and base­ment of her first house are con­ver­ted into a studio.

"Luck­ily, I had the oppor­tun­ity to move into my cur­rent work­shop very soon. The former hall of the vil­lage fire bri­gade, the wine cellar of the neigh­bour­ing winery and the old premises of the vil­lage kinder­garten on the 1st floor of the build­ing are now my home. Early in the morn­ing I take my dogs for a walk through the vine­yards, which is a spe­cial exper­i­ence at any time of the year. At lunch­time I feed my chick­ens and ducks in the garden - I'm my own boss."

That sounds very idyll­ic. But Monika is on the road many week­ends from April to Novem­ber. She packs her van full of wick­er­work, travels to craft fairs all over Ger­many and sells her work. Loc­ally, she uses the time to go to a museum and visit friends, enjoy­ing the cre­at­ive exchange.

German artisan expertise is in demand

In the summer of 2021, she gets a request from an agency to make an install­a­tion of woven willow objects in the castle for the cen­ten­ary cel­eb­ra­tion of the ‘Bur­gen­land’ in Aus­tria. For a long time, basket weav­ing was a major source of income for the inhab­it­ants, and this should be presen­ted in the exhib­i­tion. Since there is no longer a new gen­er­a­tion of basket makers in Aus­tria, the com­mis­sion goes to Monika.

"The objects with styl­ised themes, such as the 5m-long fish or the sun disk with a dia­met­er of 2m, I could not have man­aged alone in the given 6 work­ing weeks. Luck­ily, I have my net­work of col­leagues. Five of us designed and wove the 12 large objects. It was already dif­fi­cult to organ­ise enough willow mater­i­al. There are hardly any willow farm­ers left and the mater­i­al can only be har­ves­ted until the end of March. At the exhib­i­tion open­ing, every­one was very impressed with how the willow objects gave the huge hall a spe­cial ambi­ence."

Crafting and philosophising - a perfect match

While Monika works on the dragon­fly wings, she reflects on her work situ­ation, the sat­is­fac­tion of work­ing with nat­ur­al mater­i­als, of put­ting some­thing from nature back into nature.

"I am not a person who puts secur­ity first. I can get by with less money some­times. Even during the Corona crisis, I only briefly thought of taking a per­man­ent job with a com­pany to be secure. But then I told myself that things would work out. The spe­cial thing about my work is that only people who like my work come to me. They give me pos­it­ive feed­back dir­ectly. I know that many people with other pro­fes­sions never get this direct recog­ni­tion, often only cri­ti­cism or rejec­tion!"

And when a cus­tom­er doesn't under­stand the price of her han­di­craft, Monika takes it with humour and explains that she would still have to charge heavy labour­ers' allow­ance, as she also works on her knees and her hands are often cracked and bloody from the stiff willow rods.

“One of these cli­ents than booked a work­shop week­end with me 6 months later to find out how strenu­ous my job is. At the end of the day, he told me he would never nego­ti­ate a price with a basket maker again.”

What is your dream for your future?

"First of all, I hope to stay healthy. As a self-employed crafts­wo­man, I can't afford great health insur­ance. If I'm sick, there's no com­pens­a­tion for me. But so far everything is good!"

Monika has a dream and a plan. But that is still a secret. There is anoth­er coun­try that appeals to her as a place to work. Her big smile pops up again and enthu­si­asm for her craft can be felt.

Name: Monika Nickel-Stein

She is:

Basket and wick­er­work design­er & artis­an

Her studio and work­shop is in:

Kind­en­heim - a small vil­lage in the Palat­in­ate, near the German 'Wein­strasse', a famous Wine­yard area, south of Frank­furt and north of Heidel­berg

She likes:

early in the morn­ing a coffee - with a view of the Palat­in­ate vine­yards, of course the Palat­in­ate and the Vitra Museum in Weil am Rhein, Ger­many

She admires:

Her mother, who as a young woman moved to a coun­try com­pletely unknown to her - Indone­sia. Foun­ded a family there and raised a total of 7 chil­dren full-time.

Her WIASOLA tip:

"Go for the pro­fes­sion you think is good and try it out. You! can only find out what suits you best."

Her 5 favor­ite Musi­cians:

  • Misty Edwards
  • Django Rein­hardt
  • Titi Win­ter­stein
  • Rabih Abou Khalil
  • Jan Delay

To be found under:

Monika Nickel

Studio: Flecht­werkgestal­tung

Hauptstrasse 40
67271 Kind­en­heim  - Pfalz

This is a very famous wine­yard area in Ger­many - just a short drive south of Frank­furt or north of Heidel­berg, Ger­many.

Favor­ite Museum:

Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Ger­many, near the Swiss border

The only European Art&Craft school for Wicker work and Design:

More about wicker craft:

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