Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry
During the past century, as the economic suitability of some traditional crafts have declined, cultural tenacity has encouraged others to survive. A leading example is the production of sea grass, or sweetgrass, baskets along the coast of South Carolina. With roots in West Africa, this African American tradition followed the contours of rice culture, which spread along tidal rivers as far as North Carolina and northern Florida. Today, sweetgrass basketry is concentrated in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina and in isolated pockets around Charleston County.
Over the years, the basketmakers have incorporated new designs and new materials, yet the process remains largely unchanged. Until the 20th century, demands on the craft were determined mainly by agricultural needs and household use. In the last hundred years, the shift from utilitarian object to art object has changed the market dramatically. Charleston merchants began purchasing baskets to sell to tourists locally as well as commercial outlets in other parts of the country.
Basketmakers soon began skipping the "middleman" and basket stands soon appeared along Highway 17 in Mt. Pleasant, allowing the basketmakers to reach prospective buyers directly.
Made of four natural materials - sweetgrass, bulrush, pine needles, and palmetto - the coiled basket tradition is over three hundred years old and remains a vibrant means of artistic expression.
Video (View Transcript)
"Gullah Baskets" (03:31)
Edna Rouse in "Gullah Baskets" (02:41)
More from "Gullah Baskets" (03:07)
"Charleston Basketweavers" (03:01)
Mazie Brown (02:59)
Future of basketmaking (02:25)
Mt. Pleasant Sweetgrass Basketmakers' Association