LeRoy Graber - German-Russian Willow Basketry

Master: LeRoy Graber, Freeman
Apprentices: Kim Graber, Freeman
Art Form: German-Russian willow basketry

LeRoy Graber of Freeman is a well-known South Dakota traditional artist who has taught a number of apprentices over the years in both South and North Dakota.

LeRoy carries on a craft that was brought to this country over 125 years ago by his grandfather Jacob, a German from Russia, who was seeking freedom to practice his Mennonite faith. Willow baskets were a necessity for carrying and storing all sorts of things, from farm produce to clothes.

When LeRoy was about ten, he showed an interest in his grandfather’s work, and was told, “LeRoy, you’re old enough to do this.” “That was more of a command than a suggestion,” LeRoy recalls, so he sat down with Jacob and learned the intricacies of gathering, preparing and weaving willows. 

In 2002-2003 it was his son Kim Graber, who was never particularly interested in basketry when he was growing up, but recently has come to realize the importance of the tradition in his family. 

Kim and LeRoy also started a willow patch at Kim’s farm, rooting cuttings of different kinds of local willows so they will have easier access to basket materials.

Man (LeRoy Graber) seated at work bench selecting willows.

LeRoy Graber selecting willows for the bottom of a new basket.