Sweetgrass Basket

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COVER ART

Co-producing Space Along the Sweetgrass Basket Makers’ Highway in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina BRIAN GRABBATIN
The University of Kentucky

The cover photograph for this issue of Southeastern Geographer places you on the roadside of Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant South Carolina. In the midst of suburban neighborhoods, shopping malls, and commuter traffic, African American men and women sell baskets made from sweetgrass, bulrush, palmetto fronds, and pine needles. These baskets have become a popular symbol in Charleston’s historical tourism industry because of their connection to West African coiled basketry, rice processing on lowcountry plantations, and their association with Gullah-Geechee culture (Rosengarten et al. 2008). Despite this importance, the craft has been undermined by development patterns that restrict access to raw materials, disrupt African American communities, and displace roadside basket stands (Proceedings 1988; Halfacre et al. 2010). The craft has persisted, however, which illustrates that land use and livelihood changes can be co-produced by a host of different social relationships (McCusker and Carr 2006). In this case, negotiations between the basket making community, government officials, and residents have created a variety of formal and informal agreements that save, as

well as create, space for harvesting plants and selling baskets (Grabbatin et al. 2011). Sweetgrass baskets have been displayed along Highway 17 since the 1930s, when African American women marketed these household crafts to tourists traveling to and from Charleston. The number of stands has grown over time, from 31 in 1949, ‘dozens’ in 1961, 75 in 1978, to 97 in 2007 (Derby 1980; Hart et al. 2004; Grabbatin et al. 2011). During this time, changes in infrastructure and roadside development have rearranged the distribution of stands. One of the longstanding protections for the basket stands was permission from the South Carolina Department of...
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