WILLOW IS PLENTIFUL, flexible, tough and ubiquitous, and the furniture made from it possesses a timeless, rustic beauty. Seminole Indians bent cypress from Florida swamps, and Southwest tribes joined twigs with rawhide thongs. These Indians taught America's earliest settlers willow-craft and, hailed as folk art, the resulting handmade Appalachian "gypsy" chairs were proudly displayed in Victorian parlors. Every half-century or so, urbanites rediscover willow's charm. This season, willow furniture is once again high style.
From the Santa Monica Mountain creek beds, where the Chumash cut arroyo willow for 9,000 years, Linda Steis of Canyon Willow Works collects pliant willow saplings. Leaving bark, knots and sprigs intact, she hand-hews trunks into frames, curves branches into graceful arms and headrests, and stretches slim whips to form backs and seats, creating old-fashioned bud basket chairs, settees, chaises, rockers and headboards. She interlocks twigs to make round, square and oval tables.