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New McKissick exhibition shows off artistry of sweetgrass basketmaking

Basketmakers have sewn baskets in the South Carolina Lowcountry since the 17th century.

[caption id="attachment_50861" align="alignright" width="300"] Four Corners of Justice by Georgette Wright Sanders. Provided photo. Click image to enlarge.[/caption] The tradition has been preserved at the hands of the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of enslaved West Africans trafficked to North America. For over 300 years, basketmakers have transformed baskets from a plantation tool into an art form. Today, basketmakers continue to leverage heritage tourism to make a living, to advocate for the preservation of the ecosystem vital to the tradition, and to experiment with scale, form, and materials. Sewn Through Time: Sweetgrass Basketmakers Reimagine a Tradition traces the evolution of sweetgrass baskets in South Carolina, highlighting the innovative work of contemporary makers. The lens brought to the baskets in this exhibit by Guest Curator Kennedy Bennett is that of an insider to the basketmaking community. A recent Yale graduate, Bennett explains

Growing up in Mount Pleasant as the daughter and granddaughter of basketmakers, I was enveloped in a community that kept Gullah-Geechee traditions alive. My grandmother, Thelma Bennett, other family members, and neighbors sewed sweetgrass baskets on their porch, at their basket stand, and at local businesses appealing to tourists. I am fortunate to have immersed myself in Gullah-Geechee culture—first as a descendant, and now in academic and curatorial contexts. 

Among the makers whose work will be featured are Antwon Ford, Georgette Wright Sanders, and Adell Swinton. Ford draws inspiration from gestalt psychology and the idea of a 4th dimension to conjure sculptural forms that represent “grass in motion.” With vessels like Four Corners of Justice that invoke both South Carolina’s sweetgrass basket and 19th century face vessel traditions, Sanders redeems the past to envision a better future. Swinton’s miniature versions of classic basket forms like the ring tray and purse with lid demonstrate technical virtuosity in the service of memorializing the imaginative reservoir and entrepreneurial spirit of past makers. The opening reception for Sewn Through Time will be Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, 5:30-7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Visitors are invited to meet Bennett as she shares how she came to study and write about sweetgrass baskets.
Front page image: Basket by Antwon Ford. Click here to view enlarged.

McKissick Museum and the SCAC are partners for the agency's Folklife & Traditional Arts program. Sewn Through Time: Sweetgrass Basketmakers Reimagine a Tradition is open from Aug. 11 to Dec. 10, 2022 at McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina (816 Bull St., Columbia, at the east end of the historic Horseshoe). Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free.

Jason Rapp

From The State: Sweetgrass basketry fighting for survival

A tradition in peril

Sweetgrass basketry intertwines with South Carolina heritage in the same way that the grasses come together to form the renowned finished product.

But for how much longer will it be part of the present? Today, Caitlin Byrd of The State tries to get a grasp on the situation (subscription possibly required):

Also driving up the price of baskets is the increased development in the coastal region, which continues to cut off access to the very plants Black families use to make sweetgrass baskets. And then there’s the concern about time itself, as a generation of sewers worry that this craft, which can trace its origins to the 17th century, will not be carried on in the way it once was.

This traditional art form is no stranger to The Hub or the South Carolina Arts Commission.
  • Sweetgrass basketmakers have been Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients many times since the first in 1990, and the most recent was in 2018. (The Folk Heritage Award is presented annually by the SCAC and its partner the University of South Carolina McKissick Museum.)
  • A basket by Mary Jackson, one of the most decorated artisans, is included in the State Art Collection and is included in The State's story.

Jason Rapp

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.

Mary Jackson honored by American Craft Council

Mary Jackson is among the foremost of #SCartists, and late last week in Minneapolis the American Craft Council added to her impressive resume by inducting her to its College of Fellows – placing her firmly at the top of her field. [caption id="attachment_16665" align="alignright" width="230"]Mary Jackson, Two Lips Mary Jackson, Two Lips[/caption] Candidates for this prestigious honor are nominated and elected by their peers. To be eligible, individuals must demonstrate extraordinary ability and must have worked for 25 years or more in the discipline or career in which they are recognized. The Charleston-based basketmaker uses sweetgrass in the West African (and later, Gullah) tradition for her art, which had already garnered her exclusive recognition. In 2008 she received a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," and in 2011 the S.C. Arts Commission presented her with the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement. In 2016, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston named a gallery for her. Jackson began making baskets under her grandmother’s tutelage at age 4, working alongside other members of her family to uphold a multi-generational tradition that extends back to their ancestral heritage in West Africa. “The results of a basket are the thing that keeps you coming back again,” she said. “You’ve created something so beautiful, then the whole world loves what you’re doing … that’s the inspiration.” Read more here and here from American Craft Council, whose work contributed to this post.

S.C. Arts Awards: Henrietta Snype

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.

Henrietta Snype

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.

Tuning Up: Basket maker Snype featured in DC publication + Spoleto accolade

Good morning!  "Tuning Up" is a morning post series where The Hub delivers quick-hit arts stories of interest to readers. Sometimes there will be one story, sometimes there will be several. Get in tune now, and have a masterpiece of a day. And now, in no particular order...

State to honor five with 2018 Folk Heritage Awards


  • Four artists and one advocate selected
  • Program managed jointly by McKissick Museum at USC and South Carolina Arts Commission
  • Awards to be presented May 2 at South Carolina Arts Awards Day
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Five South Carolina recipients are to be honored by the General Assembly with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, presented annually to recognize work that keeps the state’s traditional art forms alive. The following five recipients – four artists and one advocate – are being recognized as practitioners and advocates of traditional arts significant to communities throughout the state. Their traditions embody folklife’s dynamic, multigenerational nature, and its fusion of artistic and utilitarian ideals. The 2018 recipients are:
  • The Blackville Community Choir (Blackville): A Capella Spiritual and Gospel Singing
  • Michael King (Greenville): Piedmont blues
  • Henrietta Snype (Mount Pleasant): Sweetgrass basketry
  • Deacon James Garfield Smalls (St. Helena Island): Traditional spirituals
  • Dr. Stephen Criswell (Lancaster): Folklife & Traditional Arts Advocacy
“The work of proliferating our state’s unique cultural heritage is an important one in an age of constant change,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said. “The intrinsic value of these treasured art forms is the story each tells of where and who we’ve been, and are, as a culture. We should all be grateful for the work these award recipients do on our behalf.” [caption id="attachment_2612" align="alignright" width="150"]Jean Laney Harris Jean Laney Harris[/caption] The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award is named for the late State Rep. Jean Laney Harris of Cheraw, respected as an outspoken advocate and ardent supporter of the arts and cultural resources of the state. Up to four artists or organizations and one advocate may receive awards each year. The program is managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at USC. Community members make nominations to recognize exemplary artistic achievement/advocacy. An independent advisory panel appointed by the lieutenant governor and house speaker selects the recipients, who must be living and practicing in the state. The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage and Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s awards, sponsored by Colonial Life, are presented at South Carolina Arts Awards Day on Wednesday, May 2 in a morning ceremony at the State House. The S.C. Arts Foundation will honor the recipients afterward during a fundraising luncheon at the USC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). South Carolina artists’ work will be on sale to support the programs of the S.C. Arts Commission. Luncheon tickets are $50 per person and available for purchase through SouthCarolinaArts.com or by calling 803.734.8696. For more information about the Folk Heritage Awards, visit the McKissick Museum website at http://artsandsciences.sc.edu/mckissickmuseum or the S.C. Arts Commission website, SouthCarolinaArts.com.
  • Blackville Community Choir (Artist Category) was formed in 1965 as the Macedonia Tabernacle Choir. In 1976, the choir changed its name to The Blackville Community Choir. The group expanded to include members from different congregations and continued to sing at churches, festivals, funerals, weddings, banquets, public schools, and college graduations. Choir members have been advocates for the arts, organizing an annual program featuring visual and performing artists, collectors, crafters, entrepreneurs, culinary artists, and storytellers.
  • J. Michael King (Artist Category) is a composer, writer, teacher, and accomplished Piedmont blues musician with an insatiable love of traditional South Carolina music. The Piedmont blues, a unique regional distillation of the blues, blossomed in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia near the beginning of the 20th century. Influenced by ragtime music and early banjo techniques, Piedmont blues involves a light, finger-picking style and steady rhythms. A popular instructor, King teaches the Piedmont blues throughout the region. For over 30 years, he has mentored musicians of all ages in and around upstate South Carolina.
  • Even at 98, Deacon James Garfield Smalls (Artist Category) sings songs dating back to the mid-19th century and stands as one the most important active Gullah singers and cultural ambassadors. Smalls received musical training from B.H. Washington, a member of the St. Helena Quartet and music director at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Smalls sang in Washington’s renowned community choir The Hundred Voices, and later led the ensemble. He also served for many years as director of the senior choir at St. Joseph Baptist Church. Beyond his early musical career, Smalls served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy’s Seabees during World War II. Over the past three decades, Deacon Smalls has led the singing at Penn Center Community Sings, various island churches, and music festivals.
  • Henrietta Snype (Artist Category) is a Mount Pleasant native and third generation sweetgrass basket maker. Snype’s work has been featured at venues in the Lowcountry and in museums throughout the U.S., including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art. Schools, museum shops, business owners, and private art collectors have commissioned works from her. She conducts workshops for public and private schools throughout Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties and does countless demonstrations for all ages.
  • Dr. Stephen Criswell (Advocacy Category) has worked in folklore and anthropology for more than 20 years. His most prominent contribution is his advocacy work for Native American culture, focusing on Catawba potters and contemporary expressive traditions. In 2005, the University of South Carolina Lancaster hired Criswell and challenged him to build and direct its Native American Studies program. After 13 years, the Native American Studies Center (NASC) houses the largest fully intact collection of Catawba pottery in existence and an extensive archival collection. Its new facility has welcomed 30,000 visitors from all over the world since 2012, raising awareness of the history, culture and traditions of Native people of the South.

ABOUT THE FOLKLIFE AND TRADITIONAL ARTS PROGRAM The Folklife and Traditional Arts Program is designed to encourage, promote, conserve and honor the diverse community-based art forms that make South Carolina distinct. The major initiatives of the program serve both established and emerging cultural groups that call South Carolina home. ABOUT MCKISSICK MUSEUM The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum tells the story of southern life: community, culture, and the environment. The Museum is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe with available parking in the garage at the corner of Pendleton and Bull streets. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. The Museum is open from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. The Museum is closed Sundays and university holidays. For more information, please call at 803.777.7251 or visit http://www.sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/mckissick_museum/. ABOUT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISSION The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696.

Artist Kim Keats teaches the “joy of random weaving”

Take a peek inside a basketry class taught by South Carolina Arts Commission Craft Fellow Kim Keats through Local Life, a monthly column in the Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet. Local Life is written by Lisa AnneLouise Rentz, publicity coordinator for ARTworks in Beaufort, where Keats teaches classes. An excerpt: "'If you've got something loose or popping out, just weave more over it, that's the joy of random weaving,' Kim Keats told her class. We were seated around worktables covered with grape vines, bins of water, and baskets in progress. ... Supple ribbons of bark soaked in one of the bins. Gathering is a part of her creative process. Use of materials is important to her -- she doesn't want to let anything go to waste -- 'turning a tree into something beautiful.'" Read the complete column. Keats' next class begins Tues., Nov. 6 and runs weekly through Dec. 4. Class is held from 6 - 8 p.m. Registration is $55. Find out more about the class and how to register on ARTWorks' website. Photo above: Example of Keats' work made of poplar bark, waxed linen and palmetto root. More photos of Keats' work can be found here. Via: Lisa AnneLouise Rentz, Beaufort Gazette/Island Packet [caption id="attachment_1954" align="aligncenter" width="614"]Kim Keats basket class at ARTworks Artist Kim Keats, right, demonstrates "the joy of random weaving."[/caption]