Amana basket weaver helps keep tradition alive

Joanna Schanz earns Lifetime Achievement Award from National Basketry Organization

Joanna Schanz is a basket weaver and has written a history of basketry in the Amana Colonies. She is shown here at the P
Joanna Schanz is a basket weaver and has written a history of basketry in the Amana Colonies. She is shown here at the Philip Dickel Basket Museum in West Amana. (Photo by Donna Kallner)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Joanna Schanz has no idea how many willow baskets she’s woven over the past half century.

“No, absolutely not,” she said, laughing.

Suffice to say Schanz has woven more than a few. She can complete a basket in a day or stop and start depending on her schedule.

“I thoroughly enjoy it. For me, it’s relaxing,” Shanz said.

Historically, each of the seven Amana villages had their willow patches and willow basket makers. Baskets were made to be used in their businesses, kitchen houses and homes. By 1972 there was only one active basket maker, Philip Dickel, who lived in Middle Amana. The folk art of willow basketry was revived in 1977 when he taught Schanz of West Amana how to plant, harvest and weave baskets with cultured willow. The West Amana basket weaver estimates she has plots totaling about an eighth of acre now and harvests willow every year.

In addition to weaving baskets, Schanz, who along with her husband, Norman, and their son, Michael, operate Schanz Furniture and Refinishing in South Amana, has taught classes, traveled around the country and to Europe to learn more about basketry, and helps curate an annual basket show.

And recently, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Basketry Organization.

“That blew my mind. I don’t need award for just doing something I enjoy,” she said.

The award recognizes not only her basketry but her involvement in the Philip Dickel Basket Museum, 618 Eighth Ave. in West Amana. The 2019 basket exhibit, Willow Basketry of the Amana Colonies: Past and Present, runs through Oct. 5. The museum, next to Broom & Basket Shop, is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays through Aug. 26. Freewill donations are accepted.


When she first started weaving, Schanz says she “hoarded” her baskets. Dickel told her baskets are made to be used, “and I realized I could make another one if one wore out,” she said.

Although not an Amana native, Schanz says preserving the heritage of Amana basket making is motivating. She researched Amana basketry through the years and in 1986 wrote a book, including instructions for future basket makers.

Schanz explained it’s common for a basket maker to try several styles and materials until they find one they like. She’s made a variety of baskets over the years, however, her favorite is the apple picker. As the name suggests, it’s designed to be carried when harvesting in the orchard.

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