Urs Schwarz – sightless basket weaver
When Urs Schwarz was ten years old, he was diagnosed with Kniest syndrome, a genetically-based developmental malformation. A very rare disease with ‘only’ a few hundred cases known throughout the world, there is no known cure.
I meet Urs in the Roten Thurm, a quaint wooden country hotel in a small town in the Emmental. A Christmas market is held on the second floor where the local men’s choir usually meet, but today Urs displays his handwoven willow baskets among a handful of other local craft vendors.
He greets me with gusto and a cheerful smile. He’s used to being interviewed and dives right in: “My mother opened my eyes,” he says. She brought on the lego set and other construction kits for her blind son and they both realized that Urs had a knack for constructing complex structures.
After attending sightless school, the teenager completed his apprenticeship as basket weaver with high marks; – in his sighted class, he was only allowed some additional time to complete the examination.
Willow weaving – age-old craft of beauty
We discuss the different types of willow wood and how the branches are first soaked in a large water trough before Urs weaves them into baskets and other items such as firewood crates, berry containers, doll carriages, lamps, hats, chairs and many more items that he then sells at various country markets. He’s well known for his quality weaving and much liked by local customers and fellow crafts people. Even now as we speak people drop by to say hi and a chat for a few moments.
Urs lives in his self-designed apartment/atelier under the roof of his family’s gorgeous Emmental farmhouse in Eggiwil. Parents Elisa and Walter – both 82 years – and his sister Annerös live here. In the newer part of the farm right next door live his brother Martin who runs the farm, and his other brother Urs.
Social support within the family
For lunch, the family gathers daily at the parents’ table, and the siblings provide transportation and other support for their brother whenever there is need. In his spare time, Urs still enjoys building complex constructs, now with Fischertechnik, and hones his other hobby: radio plays. He has collected an extensive listening-library and is especially proud of his oldest sound-pearl: a 1937 intonation of Wachtmeister Studer-author Friederich Glauser.
It’s been a delight to chat with Urs and hear him speak about his life so unencumbered, about his work in his haste-free, easy-going Bernese dialect. As I purchase my beautiful new flower basket from Urs and he determines the price from the Braille tag attached at the bottom, he tells me he’s come to peace with his fate. “Otherwise I’d have so much to chew on, I’d go berserk,” he laughs.