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Obituary of Carol Lynn Sanders: Nature-inspired basket artist, engineer

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 30, 2009 - In recent years, when the deer on the Sanders’ mid-Missouri farm shed their antlers each spring, Carol Sanders was delighted: She had more handles for the natural fiber baskets that she meticulously created. She had planned, one day, to become a full-time natural fiber artist, creating beautiful baskets.

Those plans were cut short when Mrs. Sanders was killed in an automobile accident on her way home from her day job as an engineering manager on May 26. She was 50.

A pianist and a painter, Mrs. Sanders had always been an artist at heart, and had recently sought a new outlet that combined her creative talents and her love of nature. She decided to become a natural fiber artist, a basket-maker who uses nature’s diverse materials. Because she wanted to be very good at what she was doing, she sought help from professionals who were skilled in the ancient art.

She started with a class from Karen Zane, an Indianapolis-based artist who specializes in antler baskets. Subsequently, she studied under Joan Stoneham at John Campbell Folk School in North Carolina, where she learned more about incorporating natural elements into basket design. 

Mrs. Sanders also worked with Martha Younkin, a Union, Mo.-based artist who eschews most conventional materials in favor of natural fibers.

“I taught Carol how to use the bark of trees and leaves, and rattlesnake master (a prairie plant appreciated for its strength, sheen and permanent greenish color),” said Younkin. “Carol came over and started learning the bark and she was just absolutely delighted with it. She loved playing with it and learning all kinds of things. Her creativity took off.”

Younkin, who honed her techniques by researching Native American basket-making, noted that Mrs. Sanders was a quick study.

“I’ve been doing this for about 25 years, and she was just two steps behind me,” Younkin laughed.

By 2007, Mrs. Sanders had become adept enough to start Prairie Spirit Baskets, which her website notes was inspired by “the Midwest's beauty: forests, grasslands, birds, and animals.”

She didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. In 2001, Carol and her husband, Dave, purchased a 260-acre farm in Moberly, Mo., and set about carefully nurturing the land to return it to its native state of tall grass prairie and oak savannah.

They planted wild flowers and native prairie grass to replace fescue pastures and crop fields.

They were rewarded with more quail and song bird populations – and plenty of wood and antlers for baskets.

“My wife enjoyed hiking and doing prairie wildflower restoration on the farm,” Dave Sanders said. “She was an extremely talented artist and extremely creative. She had the talent of someone with much more experience. She had designed and made more than 150 baskets.”

In a short time, Mrs. Sanders was teaching others: small classes of eight as well as giving individual instruction and conducting workshops.

She encouraged other basketry artists to attend conferences, to study the many books on the subject and to challenge themselves to do more difficult projects.

Mrs. Sanders, was looking forward to the day when she could dedicate herself full time to basketry. She wanted to open a public studio, as well as expand, again, her home studio in St. Charles, an area in which she and her husband had lived for 25 years.

Mrs. Sanders, who was born Carol Funk on Dec. 3, 1958, in Alvin, Wis., graduated in 1983 from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich. with dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Biomedical Technology. Following college, she moved to the St. Louis area and began a career with McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing). She joined Boeing as an electrical engineer, later becoming a software engineer and most recently served as an engineering manager.

Boeing is where Carol Funk met David Sanders. The two worked together for more than 20 years, until he left to become an entrepreneur.

“I saw a postcard of a beautiful, scenic area on her wall, and I stopped and asked where it was from (it was taken in Eagle River, Wis., near her home town),” Dave said. “It turned out that we both had a love of the great outdoors.”

“Later, she saw me in the snack bar buying a Hostess apple pie; the next day, she brought in a real apple pie for me; she felt sorry for me eating that processed food,” Dave laughed. The Sanders were married in 1985.

Mrs. Sanders was one of two women killed Tuesday afternoon in a crash at the intersection of Lindbergh Boulevard and Missouri Bottom Road; Ronda Terrell, 52, of St. Louis, who failed to stop at a traffic signal, was also killed.

Visitation for Mrs. Sanders will be from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday, June 1, at Baue Funeral and Memorial Center, 3950 West Clay Street, St. Charles, Mo. 63301. No funeral services will be held in St. Charles. A second visitation and funeral will be 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, June 6, at Pentecostal Church of God in Alvin, Wis. Burial will be in Lakeview Cemetery.

Mrs. Sanders was preceded in death by her father, Chester Funk.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Sanders is survived by her mother, Janice (nee: Huff) of Eagle River, Wis.; her sisters and their husbands: Luanne and Gary Baker of Norway, Mich., Laurel and Ken Anderson of Eagle River, Wis., and Jane and Dan Tipler of Alvin, Wis. She is also survived by her English Setter, Lucy, who sports a collar engraved with Mrs. Sander’s abiding philosophy: Life is good.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

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