Matt Tommey (BSED ’96) spent 13 years in the metro Atlanta area making baskets as a hobby before moving to Asheville, North Carolina’s River Arts district to make one-of-a-kind sculptural baskets professionally. Harvesting all the materials himself, Matt is passionate about creating baskets that reflect the rustic elegance of nature for his clients.
The UGA Alumni Association’s communications intern, Sarah Rose ’16, had the opportunity to chat with Matt Tommey about his career as a sculptural basketry artist and his UGA experience.
When and how did you realize that you wanted to make your hobby of basket weaving into a full-time career?
After I had been making baskets for around 15 years, I started feeling drawn to doing basketry full-time. I started doing more shows to get my work out there and around the same time, my family and I moved to Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville is the center of the universe for fine craft in the United States, so the creative community, luxury clientele and natural environment all made it possible for me to go full time.
Where did you learn to make baskets? What artists have inspired you?
I’m self-taught through experimentation, a love for nature and an insatiable curiosity. Throughout the years, I’ve been influenced by many artists in a variety of mediums including clay, fiber and sculpture.
What’s your favorite type of piece to make?
This is always changing, but right now I love making pieces that incorporate mountain laurel branches and baskets that are reminiscent of pods and nests.
How long does it take you to complete a custom piece?
Usually 2-3 weeks, which includes a personal visit to the client’s home to harvest materials from the property. Many of my clients are in the Cashiers, Highlands and Lake Toxaway area, which allows me to harvest branches and vines from their personal land. This really makes each piece special for the client.
What is your favorite memory from UGA? Are there any specific places you liked to visit in Athens as a student?
My wife and I met at UGA while working at the Tate Center / University Bookstore on campus. We harvested kudzu by my apartment at College Park on Riverbend Parkway and loved to eat at Peking. Lots of great memories!!
How did you time at UGA shape you into the artist you are today?
I started making baskets while I was a student at UGA in the Therapeutic Recreation department. The professors in that department, specifically Dr. Diane Samdahl, really encouraged me in my creativity. I also led adventure trips through GORP and was a ropes course facilitator. All of those experiences, along with my love for nature, solidified in me the importance of following my creative passion in basketry.
To learn more about Matt or see examples of his work, please visit www.matttommey.com.