The Enduring Art of the Lowcountry Basket
December 17, 2014 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Grass Roots: The Enduring Art of the Lowcountry Basket (video 27:21). Sweetgrass Baskets: "This basket-making tradition came to South Carolina in the 17th century by way of West African slaves who were brought to America to work on plantations." The Sweetgrass Basket Tradition: "Sweetgrass basketmaking has been part of the Charleston and Mt. Pleasant communities for more than 300 years." Sweetgrass Baskets: A History (pdf): "Coiled basketry, one of the oldest African crafts in America, appeared in South Carolina during the late 17th century." The South Carolina Lowcountry. Sweetgrass (Muhlenbergia filipes).

Sweet Grass baskets from South Carolina. Charleston's Indigenous Sweetgrass Artists. Nakia Wigfall on Sweetgrass Basketry in South Carolina. Sweetgrass Basketweaving in Charleston SC. Sweetgrass Basket Weaving. History of Gullah Sweetgrass Basket of Mt. Pleasant SC: Corey Alston, Carlene Habersham.

Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art. Introduction. Fanner Baskets. African Rice and Baskets. The Lowcountry. Rice and Baskets Post Civil War to the Present. The Sweetgrass Revolution. African Baskets Today. Teacher's Guide (pdf).

The Gullah people. The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection: Introduction. Table of Contents. Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor: About. The Corridor. Our History and Culture. Our Story.

In 2008, basket maker/artist, Mary Jackson was awarded the "genius grant" or MacArthur Fellowship. Mary Jackson's page at the MacArthur Foundation. Mary Jackson segment from MEMORY episode. Mary Jackson gives a tour of the baskets in her studio. Mary Jackson explains how rice is separated from the chaff.

In May 2008, the bronze sculpture "Winnowing Hands" was unveiled at the Sweetgrass Plaza (The Market at Oakland, Mt. Pleasant, SC). With the help of the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Foundation, sculptor Shirley McWorter-Moss was commissioned to create the work. The sculpture is dedicated to the preservation of the Sweetgrass basket weavers.

The future of the basket weaving tradition is facing uncertainties.
Mount Pleasant's sweetgrass basket makers try to adjust to widened Highway 17.
Lowcountry's sweetgrass basket makers fear knockoffs.
Centuries-old basket-weaving tradition in S.C. is threatened.
Artists are Threatened.

Concerning the Gullah: Previously.
posted by cwest (8 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Why is it called sweetgrass?
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:32 AM on December 18, 2014

According to this link: "so called because it smells like freshly mowed hay" (as in sweet hay)
posted by cwest at 12:43 AM on December 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here are some books:

-Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art, and yes, it has the same title as the website linked in the original post.

-Row upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry

I work in the South Carolina lowcountry and wish I could afford a basket or two. They're even more beautiful in real life.
posted by mareli at 5:25 AM on December 18, 2014

What a fascinating and thorough post! The baskets are stunningly beautiful and I bet they're flexible and strong and fragrant, too. Amazing skill, patience and artistry.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:49 AM on December 18, 2014

I grew up vacationing in the SC low country (and still do from time to time). Those baskets really are gorgeous. They aren't cheap, but not unreasonable considering the work that goes into them. I live about a 2-3 hr. drive away from that area, and various arts and crafts fairs around here usually have at least one vendor. At one such event not long ago I approached a booth with the familiar baskets hanging from them and was surprised to see an old white guy making baskets in the corner. His work was as good (to my untrained eye) as that of anyone else, but it was kind of jarring to see him in place of the Gullah woman I expected.
posted by TedW at 6:44 AM on December 18, 2014

You can purchase small examples of them in Charleston's old market. You can gaze with envy at the large examples and wish you had more expendable income, too.
posted by Atreides at 6:44 AM on December 18, 2014

Every time I go home to Charleston, I pick up a small sweetgrass basket from one of the ladies sitting in the market to give as a gift for the dog/cat sitter in my adopted home of CA. They are always met with the same response...."what gives it that great smell?" Ahhh, sweetgrass.
posted by hangingbyathread at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a truck driver, and I've often driven though the corridor on US-17. I've always wanted to pull over and have a look at the baskets, but there's no shoulder. At least, not one I'd park an eighty-thousand-pound truck on.
posted by sudon't at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2014

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