Sweetgrass baskets

IMG_8160Meet Rose Marie Manigault, basket-maker extraordinaire.  She is holding the basket that I purchased from her at Magnolia Plantation, near Charleston, SC. There is so much to say about her work and methods and presence, but let me start by directing your attention to the poking tool in the basket on her lap.  It is a utensil (spoon? fork?) with the utilitarian end removed and the remaining stem blunted. Thinking about all the harm I do to myself while quilting, I asked if her fingers were calloused.  She said “no”.
IMG_8895As I watched her work, it was clear why she found my question puzzling (maybe it was just weirdly personal). She poked and tugged and wrapped with deft skill — no fingers harmed! Look at those incredible pine needle knots!

Her wares were lined up on a high table set up under a pergola draped with wisteria. It was a little too early in the season for the vine to be in bloom, but it couldn’t have been a prettier site — especially dovetailing, as the time did, with a horribly raw week in Boston.

IMG_8161Look at the variety! That central, smallish basket in the foreground is a pattern called “Elephant Ears”.  I learned that the baskets darken with age and that sweetgrass, once abundant, is becoming harder to procure.  Unlike osier and other basket-making materials, sweetgrass, palmetto, and pine needles require no soaking to render them pliable.

Many beautiful examples of African American basketry are collected in the Lowcountry Digital Library.  The knowledge about how to weave fanner baskets and employ them to winnow rice were two of the many African skills that allowed planters to amass fortunes growing rice with slave labor. The fanner basket below, is at the Charleston Museum, and is made of bulrush.
IMG_2499Here are a few more examples of baskets at the Museum.
IMG_2516 IMG_2517Ms. Manigault was kind enough to pose for my pictures and sign the bottom of my basket. Anyone presuming to take her picture without making a purchase was shoo’d away.  As a crafter (even absent issues of race), I could relate to this.
IMG_8896I haven’t quite found the right place for my basket yet.  But I will.  And it will be used.
IMG_8862  IMG_9156IMG_2440 IMG_8165IMG_8897Here is a link to Magnolia Plantation. I could not find a single reference, pictorial or otherwise, to Ms. Manigault or her baskets. Can anyone else?!!



16 thoughts on “Sweetgrass baskets

    1. Steffaney Smith

      Your write-up on Rosie was so helpful..my friend and I bought 2 baskets today and I tried to imprint her last name to memory and failed. I know it was her grandmother who taught her basket making and she has been demonstrating at Magnolia Plantation for 22 years!

  1. Dana

    I love baskets and these are wonderful. It adds so much depth to an object to know where it comes from and who makes it. Yay Rose Marie Manigault.

  2. deedeemallon

    Marti – the links worked just fine. Thank you so much for taking the time to send them. This weekend, I’ll add a couple of them to the body of the post.

    What I meant in my question was that I couldn’t find any reference to Ms. Manigault on the Magnolia Plantation website. I will look there again, too because maybe it’s there and I just didn’t see it.

  3. Marti

    You are welcome Dee. I too was surprised at no mention of Ms. Manigualt on the plantation website because it was the first place I searched. The first link that I sent from the Jan. 31, 2013 issue of The Summerville Journal referred to her as Magnolia’s resident sweetgrass basket maker who is there ever saturday. You have to go to the end of the article to find the mention.

    I’ve never see a sweetgrass basket and have longed to see one and wonder if it has a certain scent. Recently finished reading Braiding Sweetgrass and also author Dorothea Benton Frank often speaks of sweetgrass and the wonderful basket makers in many of her novels.

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  5. saskia

    beautiful baskets, beautiful post; there’s something about a hand made (sweet grass) basket.that makes you want to touch and smell them, hold them, lucky you!

  6. karoda

    ahhhh, a vacation, with a sweetgrass basket and meeting another artist…sounds like heaven on earth 🙂

  7. deedeemallon

    yes, lucky me, gorgeous weather, a new place, GOOD food, and a better than nice memento. It never occurred to me to hold the basket to my nose and inhale! now I will.

  8. Nancy

    Love this post. Seeing her sitting with her basket…lovely. I’ve made two baskets…it was fun! My friends father, in Mexico, makes baskets and she brought me one once. It is a treasure because it holds our friendship and her stories of her daddy creating them. Thank you for this post Dee.

  9. Barry Fields

    I bought a basket from Ms. Manigault to give to my mother as a birthday present. Same spot. Set up under the wisteria there at Magnolia Plantation. I lived across the river from Magnolia for a couple years and loved hearing the eerie call of the plantation’s peacocks and the music on the weekends from the wedding receptions on the lawn behind the big house.

    1. Steffaney Smith

      Barry, you sounded homesick for your Magnolia Plantation surroundings. I loved meeting Rosie today..a true artist and people person! Isn’t it wonderful to know people still experience the same things here that you hold so close in your heart. I hope you have a return on your agenda!


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