Local artisan to appear on INSP's Handcrafted America

Jill Wagner host of the INSP's Handcrafted America, filmed a segment with Bessie Johnson at her home in the Tibbee Community in March. The crew sets up a shot in Johnson's backyard
Staff Writer

West Point's own artisan, Bessie Johnson, will appear on INSP's Handcrafted America, with host Jill Wagner, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8. The episode can be seen on Comcast Cable channel 264, DirecTV channel 364 and Dish Network channel 259.

"The third season started last Friday," Johnson said. "I had been contacted by the network about the new season, but just found out the air date for the episode I appear in. I am so very excited. I'll be letting all my family and friends know so they can tune in."

Johnson is well known for her intricate pine straw baskets, all woven by hand. She also creates matchstick art,
as well.

"We are in search of the best of the best," Wagner, host of INSP's Handcrafted America's said. "At Handcrafted America we strive to find artists who carry on traditions. It is so important that these types of crafts aren't lost."

Wagner said she was shocked when she saw Jonhson's baskets. She said she was amazed at the workmanship and quality of baskets made from pine straw.

"What Bessie Johnson does is amazing," Wagner said. "The baskets are perfection. To watch her weave these by hand from all natural products is just amazing."
During filming of the segment in March, Wagner was given a quick lesson on building the base of the basket.
The host was delighted to see many different types of baskets on display at Johnson's home in the Tibbee Community.

"Weaving baskets has taken me to places I never dreamed of going," Johnson said. "I have been provided with so many opportunities that I never thought possible as a little girl in Clay County gathering pine straw and weaving baskets."

Johnson said she learned the art of pine straw basket weaving from her mother and grandmother. She said they didn't see it as art but as a means to an end if they needed at basket.

"As children, we couldn't afford to go to the store and buy an Easter basket," Johnson said. "We would go out in the yard and gather pine straw and weave our own baskets. No two ever look the same. Even when I teach people my method, their baskets will always look different."
Johnson said becoming a member of the Mississippi Arts Council opened up many doors for her due to her unique talent.

"It has provided different types of opportunities at every stage of my life," Johnson said. "I've appeared on some local television but never a segment on a network that can be seen nationally like I did for INSP's Handcrafted America."

Johnson often conducts classes on pine straw basket weaving. She said she wants to teach everyone who is willing to learn.

"This is my legacy," Johnson said. "I don't want to see this art form die. The only way to prevent that is to train others who show an interest how they are created. It takes a couple of days to make a basket after you get the hang of the technique. Some of the baskets made by my students surpass mine. But don't tell them I said that."

In addition to being a member of the Mississippi Arts Commission, Johnson is also a member of the Craftsman Guild of Mississippi.