Sweetgrass basket-making is one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the US. Brought to the area by slaves from West Africa, it is a traditional art form that has been passed on from generation to generation for more than 300 years.
Did you know that West Africa resembles South Carolina in both climate and landscape? And rice had long been cultivated there, so plantation owners gained not only free labor but also a wealth of knowledge and skill, such as basketry. The original baskets were tough and sturdy, used in the rice fields and also for storing vegetables, shellfish, or cotton.
At times in danger of becoming a lost art, today’s more intricate and artistic baskets are purchased by museums and art collectors throughout the world, and authentic ones command very high prices indeed!
Even so, the future of the art is uncertain. The time-consuming nature of basket-making at this skill level, as well as the toll rampant development has taken on coastal islands and marshlands continue to threaten its existence.
The South Carolina Information Highway says “Don’t be fooled by inexpensive knockoffs!” The real deal can be found at basket stands along a seven-mile stretch of Highway 17 North near Mt. Pleasant, and here on Hilton Head at the Gullah Sweetgrass Basket Gallery at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
An even better idea, however, is to learn how to make one of these beautiful and intricate baskets yourself!
The Coastal Discovery Museum is offering their “Sweetgrass Basket Class” every Saturday morning @ 10:30 through November. Learn from a local Gullah basket maker using indigenous natural materials, and participate in helping to keep an honored South Carolina coastal tradition alive.