2018 Recipient Feature Series
As the day nears for the 2018 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 10 days to focus on this year’s 10 recipients: five 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 USC.
This week, the Folk Heritage Award recipients are featured.
Sweetgrass basketry | Artist Award
Henrietta Snype is a native of Mount Pleasant, SC and comes from a long line of Sweetgrass basket makers. Her skill and dedication to the artform have garnered her a reputation as a thoughtful, effective, and innovative artist who weaves history, culture, and love into each basket. Her work has been featured at venues in the Lowcountry and in museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. Her creations have been commissioned by schools, museum shops, business owners, and private art collectors. Each year, she conducts workshops for public and private schools throughout Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties and at venues such as the Preservation Society, the Charleston Area Visitors Bureau, and the annual Sweetgrass Cultural Festival in Mount Pleasant, SC. Institutions such as The Penland School of Arts in North Carolina and The John C Campbell Folk Art School in Tennessee have invited her to demonstrate and teach. Her workshops provide instruction in the craft and its history, helping participants understand that basket making is an artform with very practical roots.
Like many from the small Gullah communities of Four Mile, Six Mile, Seven Mile, Hamlin and Phillip, Henrietta grew up making baskets. She recalls learning the tradition from her mother and grandmother and often recounts memories of watching her elders make baskets. For them, Sweetgrass basketry was both practical and artistic. Henrietta learned the various “sewing” techniques by watching, listening, and practicing. What she has learned, she has passed on to her children and grandchildren. Equally as important, she also learned about the environment – how to recognize and differentiate between grades of sweetgrass and bulrush, safe locations to harvest it, and how to adapt to a changing landscape of gentrification that limits access to the once-abundant Sweetgrass.
The Lowcountry tradition of Sweetgrass basket making was born out of a technique that has its roots Senegal and Western Africa. Basket making was long held as a utilitarian craft used in the harvesting and cultivation of rice. Today, baskets are cherished works of art that are both wearable and found decorating walls and tables in hotels, restaurants, and homes across the country.
Henrietta sees her work as a testament to the strength and longevity of Gullah people and her African ancestors. She has a collection of pieces representing five generations of Sweetgrass basket making that includes works from her grandmother, Elizabeth C. Johnson; mother, Mary Mazyck; daughter, Latrelle Snype, grand-daughter, Kayla Snype, and herself. Thousands of youngsters and adults have benefited from her passion, vision, and commitment to the Sweetgrass basket tradition. On the importance of passing on the tradition, she says “I have to take this on a different journey, not just because I want to make a dollar here or there, I want to be able to preserve this…And if we don’t teach it to our children – because I consider myself in the middle generation – then there is not another generation.” She is truly a consummate artist, storyteller, and advocate for this Lowcountry tradition.
South Carolina Arts Awards Day is Wednesday, May 2, 2018. Gov. Henry McMaster will present each recipient’s award beginning at 10:30 a.m. in the State House. The event is 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.