The weather’s warm, and it’s time once again to celebrate an iconic symbol of the Lowcountry and its culture: sweetgrass baskets.
As I covered in previous blogs, Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park is the location for a lot of special events throughout the year, especially during the summer. For example, tomorrow night – Saturday, July 13th – is the latest edition of Shaggin’ on the Cooper with The Sneakers.
It’s also the site of a popular local festival, now in its 15th year, taking place earlier in the day tomorrow. It’s the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival, going on there from 10:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m.
The weaving of sweetgrass baskets is a centuries-long artisan tradition traced back to West Africa. Created by enslaved Africans, the skill was passed down from generation to generation and thrives today.
The artistry involved in their creation captures the imagination of locals and visitors alike. A sweetgrass basket is perhaps the ultimate souvenir to bring back from your stay. Folks who came here decades ago still cherish these baskets and pass them down as family heirlooms, and rightfully so. In 2006, then Governor of SC, Jim Hodges, declared sweetgrass basket making as South Carolina’s Official Art/Craft.
Sweetgrass is classic Lowcountry with roots deep in the history of the area and the Gullah-Geechee heritage of the Sea Islands.
What is Gullah-Geechee?
Gullah-Geechee is the rich culture of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the Lowcountry, especially the Sea Islands of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. It’s characterized by certain traits. These include a distinctive language, which is an English-based creole with a lot of African influence; rice-based cuisine; unique music; and artisanal traditions like the weaving of baskets from sweetgrass native to the Lowcountry.
To be more precise in the terminology, Gullah refers to the culture in the Carolinas, whereas Geechee refers specifically to Georgia and Florida.
Where to buy sweetgrass baskets
If you’d like to purchase a basket, you have several options. Just cross over the IOP Connector to Highway 17, then turn right and head north toward Awendaw. You’ll pass several roadside stands all along 17 North. In fact,the South Carolina Department of Transportation officially designated a large part of Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant as the Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway.
You can also find a great selection at the Historic Charleston City Market downtown. There you’ll meet some of the very best basket makers as they weave and sell their creations.
Also, at Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park, there’s a sweetgrass pavilion where you can learn more about the baskets and purchase one, all year long.
Speaking of Waterfront Park – that brings me back to the Sweetgrass Festival, taking place there tomorrow. The Southeastern Tourism Society has named it a top-20 event.
What to expect at the Sweetgrass Festival
You’ll find “the most extensive showcase of sweetgrass baskets in the Lowcountry area” by over 35 different basket weavers, artists and craftspeople.
- You can explore exhibits by the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, the African American Settlement Community Historic Commission, the Charles Pinckney Historic Site and the Charleston County Public Library;
- Basket weaving demos by Henrietta Snypes;
- Display of slave artifacts from George Bryant;
- Entertainment: music, gospel songs and praise dance, skits, storytelling, performances by the Adande African Drummers and Dancers, arts and crafts, documentary films;
- Gullah food and other food options available for purchase;
- Children’s activities.
10:00: The Plantation Singers
10:15: SC Aquarium
10:30: Brian Burchfield
11:05: Charles Pinckney Historic Site
11:15: Deacon Abraham Heyward & the Mighty Rushing Wind
11:25: The Carter Sisters
11:40: Honey Bea’s Production
12:35: Bill Dupont
1:15: AFW & Co and Works by Adolphus
1:30: The Dubber
2:10: Zandrina Dunning
2:25: SC Aquarium
2:35: Adande Drum & Dance Company
10:00 – 3:00 Gullah Geechee Empowerment Seminar: Cooper River Room
11:30 & 1:30 Sweetgrass Basket Demonstrations: Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Pavilion
The festival itself and parking are free, plus it’s family-friendly.
your Isle of Palms vacation blogger