S.C. Arts Awards: Dale Rosengarten

2019 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 15 days to focus on this year’s recipients: nine receiving the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts and five receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at UofSC. In between the two groups, we’ll run a special feature on S.C. Arts Awards sponsor Colonial Life.

Dale Rosengarten, Ph. D.

Advocacy – African-American Lowcountry Basketry & Southern Jewish Heritage

Dale Rosengarten has been researching the African American tradition of coiled basketry for more than thirty years. In 1984, McKissick Museum hired her to interview basket makers in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, purchase baskets, and curate an exhibition about the iconic Lowcountry craft. Rosengarten spent the next two years conducting fieldwork with basket makers and pursuing archival research on the evolution of the basket from a humble agricultural tool to a world renown art form. Her work resulted in the exhibition Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry, which traveled for two decades across the United States and introduced thousands of people to this important tradition.

In 1988, Rosengarten helped coordinate a conference on sweetgrass basketry at The Charleston Museum. The gathering marked a turning point in the relationship among public officials, land managers, and basket sewers. Participants addressed the challenges facing the makers and reached consensus about the need to ensure access to sweetgrass and protect the basket stands along Highway 17 from rampant development. The Sweetgrass Conference also created alliances with property owners willing to allow basket makers to gather grass on private land and inspired several horticultural projects aimed at cultivating the plant.

Rosengarten’s doctoral dissertation (Harvard University, 1997) placed the Lowcountry basket in a global setting and led to a partnership with the Museum for African Art in New York. With co-curator Enid Schildkrout, she developed the exhibition and book Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art, highlighting the connection between African and Lowcountry baskets and their use in rice production on both continents. The exhibit opened at Charleston’s Gibbes Museum of Art in 2008—where scores of basket makers and their families attended the inaugural gala, and ended its coast-to-coast tour in 2010 with a six-month run at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C. Grass Roots generated a number of educational tools, including a documentary film and a curricular guide, casting basket makers as tradition bearers and teachers. The exhibit catalog remains the comprehensive resource on the African roots of the Lowcountry basket but has not eclipsed Row Upon Row, which still sells steadily.

Rosengarten continues to study, support, and promote Lowcountry baskets and their makers. Her knowledge and connections to the basket making community have benefitted cultural institutions across the country, including the Smithsonian, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, and diverse museums seeking to mount exhibits or to build their permanent collections. A researcher and advocate, Rosengarten has authored numerous articles and book chapters and presented dozens of slide lectures on sweetgrass baskets and their history. One constant has been her spirit of volunteerism—her unflagging willingness to assist artists and arts organizations, basket enthusiasts and collectors, writers and film makers, and her desire to give people opportunities to tell their own stories.

Since 1995, Rosengarten has also pursued a second scholarly interest: Jewish history and culture in the American South. Working as a curator in Special Collections at the College of Charleston, she has traversed the state recording oral histories (now numbering upwards of 500) and gathering archival materials that document South Carolina’s Jewish heritage. Again in partnership with McKissick Museum, she developed a landmark exhibition and book called A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life. After opening in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2002, the exhibit traveled for two years, spending six months at Yeshiva University Museum, where New Yorkers marveled at the longevity and abundance of southern Jewry.

More recently, for Princeton University Art Museum, Rosengarten co-curated By Dawn’s Early Light: Jewish Contributions to American Culture from the Nation’s Founding to the Civil War, which had an unexpected second life at the New-York Historical Society under the title The First Jewish Americans. For the catalog Rosengarten contributed an essay on Charleston-born artists Theodore Sidney Moïse and Solomon Nunes Carvalho. She currently serves as editor of the Jewish Historical Society of South Carolina’s bi-annual magazine and as associate director of the College’s Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture.

South Carolina Arts Awards Day is Wednesday, May 1, 2019. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with a reception that leads up to the awards ceremony at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). The event is free and open to the public. Following the ceremony, the South Carolina Arts Foundation honors the recipients and the arts community at the S.C. Arts Awards Luncheon and Art Sale. Tickets are $50. Please go here for more information and reservations.

Meet the Recipients

Use these links to read the long-form bios of the other 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards recipients.