Coiled and sewn construction; sweetgrass, bulrush, palmetto
Some 15 years ago, I lived on an old wooden sailboat on the Stono River just south of Charleston, SC. Newly divorced and in need of healing, I sought out ways to connect with interesting people in this quietly beautiful and soulful place. And so I took up surfing, for which I never gained any proficiency, and sweetgrass basket making.
When I first arrived at the community center where basket maker Harriet Brown taught classes, mostly to suburban women, she seemed to hardly notice. Surely she thought I was in the wrong class or wouldn’t have the aptitude, since weaving with sweetgrass takes patience, a good eye, and nimble fingers. My first lopsided basket appeared to prove her right!
But I kept coming back, and coming back, and eventually Harriett took me seriously. She shared not only the rules of good basketry (“You’s got to feed the baby (row) to keep it growing steady”), but also stories of her own amazing life and that of her family, some of whom had woven baskets as slaves at the nearby Boone Hall Plantation in the 19th century. (The basket shown above is a decorative version of those originally used to winnow rice.)
Over the ensuing years, Harriet and I became very close, even after I moved away and began life in a new place. Sewing numerous baskets by her side, with her gentle encouragement and close scrutiny, I believe I mended my frayed heart and dreams, row upon row.