Sweetgrass Basket Weavers
For millennia, people around the globe have regarded the craft of basket weaving as sacred — one passed down through the generations from master weavers to apprentices. Some baskets are even revered as talismanic heirlooms. Although it’s an ancient craft, however, this traditional folk art is still alive and well today throughout the world. In the United States, weaving tradition of this nature is limited, kept alive primarily by Native Americans and — although lesser-known — by Lowcountry African-Americans of Gullah-Geechee heritage. These direct descendants of enslaved West Africans keep the coiled Sweetgrass basket-weaving tradition alive and, stylistically, reflective of baskets found in the rice culture of the Windward and Rice Coasts of West Africa.
West African slaves were particularly sought-after in Colonial South Carolina due of their knowledge and experience in the cultivation of rice, cotton and indigo. The Lowcountry’s first known baskets were fanner baskets, used to winnow Carolina Gold long-grain rice.
Production of the 1670 Charlestowne Sweetgrass baskets in the Collector’s Edition basket-and-candle set is overseen by head basket weaver COREY ALSTON, a fifth-generation Lowcountry native and Sweetgrass basket master weaver. His grandmother, the late Mary Jane Manigault, a National Endowment for the Arts Heritage Fellow, and mother, Mary Jane Habersham, have their own Sweetgrass baskets on display in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington DC.
Each 1670 Charlestowne–signed basket, designed exclusively for the 2016 collection, is meticulously handcrafted by Corey Alston or TK. A touch of 1670’s signature blue, in the form of French silk ribbon, is subtly woven into each basket, setting it apart from all other Sweetgrass basket designs. Corey’s passion, heart and brilliance as a master weaver is what makes the 1670 Charlestowne basket-and-candle set a collector’s item and magnificent heirloom.
How are the sweetgrass baskets made?
Agricultural baskets were originally made of bulrush, Sweetgrass and split oak. In the latter part of Reconstruction and into the twentieth century, Sweetgrass baskets began to evolve from agricultural tools to household items. Sweetgrass, a softer, finer material, replaced bulrush (also known as “cattail”) as the primary component; longleaf pine was added to the mix, and strips of palmetto tree leaf replaced split oak as binders.
Today, the baskets are made from Sweetgrass, pine needles, bulrush and palms. The baskets crafted for 1670 Charlestowne are made almost exclusively of pure Sweetgrass, which is collected on Edisto Island, one of five undeveloped beaches on the East Coast. The baskets also have pine needles on the base for stability. Each basket is woven entirely by hand.