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Sweetgrass Basket Artists

BASKETRY

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Sweetgrass Basket
Photo Courtesy of ExploreCharleston.com


Do not confuse these coiled, tightly fashioned baskets with inexpensive lightweights, often machine-made in China.  Handmade sweetgrass baskets, found along coastal South Carolina and down to Savannah, have a rich heritage that can be traced back to the West African enslaved people who brought their skills with them.

In the late 1600s, baskets were made for use in the rice harvest.  Later, they were adapted for use in homes, for bread, sewing, fruit displays and other uses.

Today, an estimated 300 artists or fewer create sweetgrass baskets, but the craft continues to be passed down from generation to generation.  Barbara Dengler and Corey Alston are two who sell their baskets to the visitors who search out the real thing. Marilyn Dingle’s handwoven classics are revered in the region.  There are a number of artists in the City Market in Charleston, at the four corners of Charleston, and along Highway 17 north from Charleston toward Georgetown.  Examples are on display at museums including the Smithsonian.

These beauties are created from sweetgrass, bulrush, longleaf pine needles and palm fronds.  Split oak or other materials are occasionally used.  Expect to pay anywhere from $40 to several thousand dollars, depending on the intricacy of the design and the size of the piece. (Loops woven into the pieces cost more) Collectors search for them at estate auctions and resale shops, but buyer beware.
 
If it’s pretty, but lightweight, and is selling for very little, it’s probably not the real thing.  An authentic basket takes many hours to create.  Even a simple, small piece requires eight hours or more.  Each is unique and many artists “let the grasses speak” as they wind the coils and imagine their design.

Google Sweetgrass baskets and you’ll find artists, history and a wealth of information.