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Local museum group to showcase E. J. Peterson baskets

Late Swedish immigrant wove baskets, which have become collectors' items

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF THE COLUMBIA COUNTY MUSEUM ASSOCIATION - E. J. Peterson at age 85, posing with some of his baskets in 1980, a year before his death. Peterson's baskets have become popular with collectors in the St. Helens area, and the Columbia County Museum Association is hoping to gather as many of them in one place as it can for its Oct. 15 open house.A special event at the historic Columbia County Courthouse next month will showcase a piece of St. Helens history — several pieces, in fact.

Baskets woven by the late Erik John “E. J.” Peterson, a longtime resident of St. Helens who died in 1981, will be on display at a Columbia County Museum Association open house on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Peterson was a well-known craftsman whose baskets were displayed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., as part of an exhibit in the early 1980s.

“A lot of people in town collect them, and have been since quite a few years ago,” said Joanne Pellham, the museum association's president.

Pellham said the group is asking for people who own any baskets made by Peterson to consider allowing them to be displayed at the open house.

“We're just kind of asking the general public to bring in what they've got,” she said. “We're trying to feature all the different kinds that we made, and we're finding out that it was a lot.”

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF LES WATTERS - Baskets woven by E. J. Peterson, a former resident of St. Helens. These baskets will be displayed at an open house being put on by the Columbia County Museum Association on Wednesday, Oct. 15.The open house will be on the second floor of the historic Columbia County Courthouse. The baskets are slated for display in a courtroom adjacent to the museum space. The event will run from noon to 7 p.m.

Peterson was a practitioner of splint-style basketmaking, a craft he reputedly learned in rural Sweden, where he grew up. He emigrated to St. Helens to work as a logger in 1914, bringing his basketmaking trade with him, according to Tricia Brown, a writer who works with the museum association. As Brown's story goes, some of the first baskets Peterson made in Oregon were wastebaskets for his logging camp.

One of Peterson's baskets — a “Pie Taker” basket donated by Jean LeMont, which Pellham said can hold up to two pies — will be raffled off. Raffle tickets are $1 each and will be available at the door. They can also be purchased in advance at the museum, which is open Wednesdays from noon to 4 p.m.

The open house is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. At 6 p.m., guest speaker Cynthia Ede will be featured.

Board members from the museum association will also be on hand to answer questions and talk about historical subjects, Pellham said.

According to Pellham, proceeds from the raffle will go toward a museum book project, for which Brown is writing a short history of St. Helens.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to make note of a featured speaker at the event.