Sweetgrass Basket History
Sweetgrass basket weaving was brought to the Greater Charleston region by slaves who were brought from West Africa. It is a traditional art form which has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, it is one of the oldest forms of African artwork in the United States. Charleston, South Carolina enjoys the distinction of being the only place where this craft is currently practiced and carried on in its original form. During the days of slavery, rice cultivation and flourishing plantations of the Old South, these baskets were in great demand for agricultural purposes. They also brought added income to slave owners, who often sold baskets to other plantation owners.
This period was popular for large-work baskets mainly because of their durability. For the most part, they were used to collect and store vegetables, fruits, staples, etc. Men made these large baskets from marsh grass called bulrush. A common form to evolve during this era was the winnowing basket (rice baskets) called the, "fanner". Other agricultural baskets were for storage of grain, cotton, and shellfish. The most common materials used in making sweetgrass baskets are; sweetgrass, bulrush, long leaf pine needles, and palmetto leave.
Today, this treasured history is on display at the Charleston City Market. Daily, baskets weaving artists offer their masterpiece of works for sale to the millions of visitors who visit this historic landmark. The Charleston City Market and the residents of this Holy City are grateful to the Gullah community for their countless contributions to our society, and pledge to preserve this important tradition for all to understand and enjoy.