My day began early with a visit to the Neema Art Gallery. There I joined a small class called “Sweet Grass Basket Weaving,” taught by Angela Stoneworth.
Brought to the area by slaves from West Africa (Senegal), basket weaving has been a part of the Mount Pleasant community for more than 300 years. This makes basket weaving one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the United States. Mount Pleasant, South Carolina enjoys being one of the only places in the country where this basketry is practiced. Sweet basket weaving has been passed on from generation to generation, usually through the women of families.
The baskets are made from marsh grasses call bulrush, though sweet grass is made from a softer, pliable grass called Muhlenbergia Filipes which gives it its pleasant smell. During slavery these baskets were in great demand for agricultural purposes. The baskets helped in the cultivation of rice, and overall productivity of plantations. Basket weaving also brought in extra income to slave owners that sold the baskets to other plantation owners.
My basket artist learned this skill and art from her own mother. She even said her basket weaving was better than her mother’s basket weaving. Angela sincerely appreciates her ancestral art and has made profitable business with sweet grass basket weaving.
Basket weaving is highly skilled and time laboring process. The baskets are all unique and different with various skills and styles depending on the how the skill was passed on from generation to generation.
That afternoon I toured churches, a historic theater, other art galleries and an inspiring tour of the Old Slave Mart Museum.
I had early dinner at Jestine’s Kitchen on Meeting Street. Jestine’s Kitchen is named in honor of Jestine Matthews. Jestine moved to Charleston, where she found work as a laundress and later a housekeeper. She worked for Aleck Ellison and his wife, which started a lifelong friendship. Jestine shared her wonderful home-style cooking and warm atmosphere the Ellison family. That evening I enjoyed the warm hospitality of this restaurant. My order: fried chicken, meatloaf, two sides and coke cola cake. Delicious!