Meet 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”. As 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.
Look 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. Here are a few more examples of baskets at the Museum. Ms. 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. I haven’t quite found the right place for my basket yet. But I will. And it will be used. Here 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?!!