Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Story of a Gullah Basket Maker/History in the Making

Bin Ya!  Gichee for from here!
Riding down highway 17 just North of Charleston is an adventure in the making...literally.  It is almost like a heritage trail of artisans and basket makers.  There are dozens and dozens of stands where families of gullah people's have handed down the tradition of basket weaving using the sweet grasses from the marshes and palm leaves.  There is even a Sweetgrass Festival that show cases the Gullah baskets in February.  The grasses must be harvested from the marshes and the palm fronds  stripped with a sharp knife.  It is a long labor intense process.  To weave even a small basket can take up to 9 hours.
Celestine    Gullah Basket Maker photo by elizabeth gordon

Palm fronds in transport on highway 17
Palm fronds ready for stripping 

Road side stand next to highway 17 along North of Charlston
Large Basket in the process of being woven
We stopped at the stand that belonged to Celestine.  She was unloading her car setting up her baskets as we approached. There were Palm fronds and sweet grasses decorating the hood of her car.  I knew right away this was the right place as her welcoming smile lit up the whole place.  As we looked at her baskets we learned a great deal more about Celestine and her rich heritage.  She had learned how to weave from her Mother and her Mother before her.  The tradition of basket making was handed down from daughter to daughter.   Her Grandmother had worked at a near by rice plantation where she practiced the art of making sweetgrass baskets-a heritage brought to America from the Western side of Africa which was also known as the Rice Coast. Coiled baskets first started appearing on the South Carolina coast as early as the 17th century with the slaves that were transported from the Windward or Rice Coast.  These enslaved people were sought after by the rice  plantation owners of the low country of South Carolina.  The baskets were used for sifting and sorting rice in there earlier days, now they are highly sought after as an art form. 
I bought two baskets from Celestine and carefully wrote down all her family history...then when I sat down to write this story I could not find my notes anywhere. 
For our readers if you go to Charleston, look for Celestine's booth, she is one of the first just North of Charleston on your right on highway 17.  With the new construction of the highway it has been hard on all the basket makers to make a living.  It is a wonderful heritage. Please support Celestine and her craft.  As I get more information I will post it.  
A note to Celestine, if you read this and realize I don't have the notes will you email me at with the information and I will add it to this page.
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