If Charleston, SC and its surrounding regions can be defined by a single artistic and functional item, it would have to be the sweetgrass basket. Handcrafted from natural materials, these Lowcountry baskets are woven into elaborately beautiful and functional works of art by Gullah artisans. They’re considered some of the nation’s oldest handicrafts of African origin.
A Brief History of Sweetgrass Baskets
For more than 300 years, people throughout the Lowcountry have woven these baskets from natural grasses. This tradition can be traced back to West Africa, and the proud descendants have used it for centuries to preserve their oral history and culture.
In the antebellum South, the baskets were used as winnowing fans to separate the rice seed and chaff and to hold household goods. Workers also used it an an income source when they grew too old to work in the fields.
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freeing the slaves, the baskets took on a new purpose. With their newly acquired freedom, they began to revisit the skills passed to them from their ancestors, and the baskets transformed from a hardworking farm staple to a high-performing earner for the artisans.
When the Great Depression hit, more and more people used basket-weaving as a way to earn money for their families, and they began to set up shop along Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. During the second half of the 20th century, sweetgrass artistry garnered international interest after top artists earned ribbons at craft shows in Canada. In 1987, seven members of the Christ Church Parish in Mount Pleasant established the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Preservation Society to protect and preserve the unique art of Lowcountry basket-making.
For more information on the history of the Lowcountry and all things Charleston, please contact THE BRENNAMAN GROUP: 843.345.6074 – firstname.lastname@example.org – BrennamanGroup.com
Take a look as Bob Brennaman visits the Sweet Grass Basket Festival: