Jill Pillsworth, a native of Port Hope, Ontario, is a horticulturalist, gardener and lover of all sticks and twigs . She began her career working with one of Canada's largest wholesale/retail nurseries in the growing divisions of the company, later forming her own nursery and a landscaping business for commercial and residential clients. In 2002 The Branch Ranch began growing ornamental willow and dogwoods on 20 acres near Warkworth, Ontario.
Jackie Stafford was born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada as a child. She studied art at OCAD and has been a successful freelance illustrator for 30 years. In 2006 Jackie began working with The Branch Ranch in the fields, behind the camera and at the computer.
The idea for Warkworth Willow Works began in the summer of 2013 when Jackie and Jill were approached by Barb Phillips, a practising Thanadoula, who was looking for willow coffins for natural burials.
The idea was intriguing to them both, so they began to research varieties of willow to grow for basketry and looked for places where they could learn how to weave. Their first basketry teacher was Lene Rasmussen, a Danish weaver living in Ontario. In 2014 they travelled to England and Wales where they took private classes with Mel Bastier and Eddie Glew, two well known basket weavers in the UK. Since then they have also taken workshops with Ane Lyngsgaard, Anne Mette Hjornholm, and Steen Madsen, worked with the extraordinary artist Patrick Dougherty for three days on an incredible willow structure in Montreal at the Jardin Botanique and held 6 days of workshops with Welsh basket maker Melanie Bastier at their farm in Warkworth. In March, 2018, they will be featured in the french basketry magazine, Le Lien Creatif.
Today they grow close to 20,000 willow plants for basketry and living willow projects, teach workshops, host guest instructors from around the world and sell DIY kits, rods and cuttings for living willow structures.
Their basketry pieces and living willow structures are created as a way to explore, experiment and acknowledge the beauty of the plants and materials they grow and gather. Inspired by nature and the breathtaking views of the hills of Northumberland where they live, these two women have embraced this craft and are excited to share their passion for willow with others. Weaving has become a very important part of their lives.