Charleston Historical - Handmade Sweetgrasss Baskets by Rebecca - Union City, GA

by Rebecca Gilliard
(Union City, Georgia)

Collection of Baskets Handmade by Rebecca

Collection of Baskets Handmade by Rebecca

Charleston Historical, Handmade Sweet Grass Baskets is more than 400 years old. My name is Rebecca Gilliard, and it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to my Handmade Baskets. The art of basket weaving is a gift, which has been passed down from generation to generation since its origination in West Africa. It is an appreciated art, over 400 years old and is still being made today by African descendants. As you view these photos, you will notice the many different styles and patterns available. You will also notice that no two patterns are alike. My baskets are made of sweet grass, palm leaf, bulrush, and longleaf pine needle. For further information or if you would like to place an order please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at the e-mail below. Thank you very much for your interest.

At the age of ten I was introduced to basket making from the elders in my community. I first learned how to gather the materials, and how to assemble the materials and then I was taught how to begin a Sweet Grass Basket. I was taught the basic and from there I began my own unique styles and designs. I was shown the basis by my aunt; as I also watched many of the elders as they created their very own unique designs.

The variability of African baskets is as diverse as the 800 different ethnic groups that comprise the African people (Vlach 1978). Only certain African people however, especially those from Senegal, were brought to South Carolina as early as 1505 with the advent of the slave trade in the New World. By the end of slavery around 1808, Africans were abducted from areas down to Central Africa and Mozambique. Rice was the main cash crop of South Carolina during the colonial period and the base of the State's economy until the 19th century. Slavers were paid premium prices for Africans from the West African Rice Kingdoms of the Windward Coast (Senegal to the Ivory Coast) and the mouth of the
Congo River (Gabon, Zaire, and Angola) (Littlefield 1981). A man or women who made baskets was worth more than one who did not, age, strength, and other skills being equal (Chas. Gaz. Adv. 1791). Since colonial South Carolinians knew little of rice culture, the success of the American Rice Kingdom is credited to enslaved Africans (Joyner 1984).

The technique of basketmaking crossed the Atlantic in slave ships and took root in the new land. The art of making sweetgrass baskets is a three-century old African-American tradition that has been "passed-down" over the centuries from parent to offspring. Sweetgrass basketmaking is one of the earliest traditional rafts with a rich documented history from "carryover" from African enslavement and plantation days to the present (McKissick Museum 1988). Although the materials used are different in the United States, the form and function of the African counterparts of sweetgrass baskets are unchanged to this day. (Folk history recounts that enslaved men and women weaved African coiled baskets to fan rice in order to separate the grains from the chaff. After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, former slaves were dedicated to preserve the African traditions of their ancestors. A reaffirmation of this goal has been made by each generation of the descendants of enslaved Africans and sweetgrass basketry is a symbol of this devotion.

Vendor Contact Information For Event Bookings:

Rebecca Gilliard
Union City, Georgia

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