Beth Robbins Keller has a lot of wheat inside her rural Lake City home, but it’s not for eating.
Since 1980, Keller has picked, dried, spun and crafted wheat into art. She sells her artwork, which includes her popular Christmas ornaments, at SEMVA in Rochester and Lake Pepin Pearl Button Company in Lake City.
She also teaches her craft. She has appeared at conferences all across the United States, as well as Hungary and Belarus, talking about her passion for straw art.
How did you get started with straw art?
I began wheat weaving in 1980. I was self-taught from a book. Then, I started attending National Association of Wheat Weaver conventions in 1993 and realized all of the things I didn’t know. I took a class from a lady from across the pond (England) who came to the 1996 convention. I was smitten, and I have loved working with it ever since.
What are some of your favorite items to make?
I love to do Swiss lace, making God’s eyes, all types of shells from the Mississippi River, mussel/clam shells that were used to make pearl buttons. My great-grandfather was a clammer in Red Wing.
How popular are your Christmas ornaments?
They do very well. I have them in special packaging, and people like that. They always sell very well.
What has it been like to attend conventions with your son, who also teaches wheat weaving?
It has been wonderful and amazing. My oldest son works on the farm, but Tommy, he always has hung with me. He started (wheat weaving) at age 3. At 10, he went to his first conference. Tommy started teaching at age 12. … He does some things better than I do. Yeah, I’ve accepted that. There are some things he’s just better at.
You said wheat weaving is not being done by many young artists. Do you believe down the road that trend can change?
I hope so. It will if I have anything to do about it. It’s just about getting out there and getting kids excited about it. I have been demonstrating how to make a straw rose, and kids, some who can’t even see over the table, will be watching. But they’re watching, not touching anything. I tell them to look but not touch. And if they are really good, I tell them, “Here you go,” and I hand them one.