Vandals can’t stop Burning Basket event

Despite an attempted torching on Friday night and destruction of the Burning Basket early Sunday at Mariner Park, volunteers rallied Sunday afternoon to rebuild “Reach: A Basket of Remembrance and Unburdening.” The 12th annual event happened as scheduled, with about 150 people visiting the repaired basket and watching the celebratory torching of the impermanent art.

“This is the phoenix that has risen twice,” basket facilitator Mavis Muller said on Sunday night. “It got knocked off its feet and drug across the parking lot and deposited in the ditch. … The community arrived in droves and like surgeons we carted it all back together again.”

On Tuesday, Homer Police Lt. Will Hutt said police continue to investigate the vandalism and have identified two suspects. Witnesses reported seeing people in a dark colored pickup truck hook up a chain to the basket and drive away on the Homer Spit Road and turn east on Kachemak Drive. The chain also took out a pedestrian crossing sign. Hutt said police got license plate numbers and officers also took photos of tire tracks.

“That’s uncharacteristic,” Hutt said of the art vandalism. “People have absolutely no respect for anything anymore.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, police had not yet filed charges or made any arrests.

The first vandalism happened about 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning, when a man told police he saw someone shoot flares at the basket, then about 75-percent complete. Volunteers had been building the basket from natural materials since Sept. 6. The witness put out the fire, although it scorched parts of the basket. The man said he saw two people walking away on the beach. Police did not find the suspects.

At sundown Saturday, volunteers repaired the fire damage and had mostly finished the basket. Several people camped out on the site on Saturday night. Garry Betley had parked his van near the basket. About 3:20 a.m. he said he woke up to hear footsteps near the basket. He turned on his headlights and saw people near the basket who then ran away. Then a truck roared off and pulled the basket down.

“And the basket’s gone,” Betley said.

Betley said he it was foggy and he didn’t see any of the vandals.

At daylight, volunteers found the basket in pieces spread around the Mariner Park parking lot and along the road. The basket was built around a central post, with smaller posts circling it. Artists used grass, fireweed, willow and alder twigs to weave the basket. Several sides of the basket were recovered intact, as were elements of the basket, including its name spelled out in twigs. A labyrinth built by schoolchildren next to the basket escaped damage.

The Burning Basket community art project invites people to interact with the basket by placing messages, their own art and other elements to the basket. In the past, people have honored loved ones who have died or suffered illness by putting objects and letters on the basket. There also is a drum circle and fire hooping.

Despite having to repair the basket from pieces, Muller remained positive on Sunday night, and drew a metaphor from its attempted demolition.

“I think of this basket as really acting that out for all of us,” she said before it was torched. “At those times when we feel that we have been burned, we’ve picked ourselves up and put ourselves back together. Those times when we feel we’ve been knocked off our feet and drug across the parking lot and torn into little pieces — and then we put ourselves back together again.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at

People left mementoes on the basket.-photo by Michael Armstrong

People left mementoes on the basket.-photo by Michael Armstrong

The event went as planned, with fire dancers.-photo by Annie Rosenthal

The event went as planned, with fire dancers.-photo by Annie Rosenthal

Drumming.-photo by Michael Armstrong

Drumming.-photo by Michael Armstrong