Pi Gamma Mu Key
International Honor Society in Social Sciences
The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service.

THE SWEETGRASS BASKET TRADITION

– SEE A LIVE DEMONSTRATION AT THE 2014 CONVENTION

BasketPi Gamma Mu's Triennial International Convention, in October of 2014, promises to include a plethora of historic sights including a live demonstration of traditional sweetgrass basket making.  For students studying any of the social sciences this will be the place to be from October 16-18th.  Keep tuned to our convention website and upcoming newsletters as we tell you about the activities, seminars and workshops, presentations, tours of Charleston, and people you will meet at the convention. 

Ms. Annie Scott is one of those people.  Known as a Sweetgrass Lady, she is an artist continuing the tradition of basket making taught to her by her parents and grandparents.  Sweetgrass basket making has been a part of the Charleston coastal community of Mount Pleasant for more than 300 years.  Introduced by the slaves that were brought here from West Africa, it is the oldest art form of African origin in the United States.  South Carolina is the only place where this particular type of basketry is created by artists who are descendants of slaves from West Africa.  Traditionally handed down from mother to daughter, the skill of basket making was often taught to men as well, who made larger baskets from marsh grasses called bulrush.  Baskets were used during the American agricultural period to collect and store vegetables, grain, cotton, fish and shellfish.  Smaller, functional baskets were woven for everyday use for breads, fruits, sewing, and storage of clothing.  Women used the softer, more pliable grass called Sweetgrass because of its pleasant fragrance, much like that of fresh hay.  Basket making involved the whole family and it was customary for the boys and men to gather the materials needed.  The women and girls would sew or weave the baskets. 

Today these baskets are still durable and can be used for household tasks, but are also considered works of art and can be displayed for their beauty and aesthetic appeal.  If used, they can be gently washed with mild soap and water.  However, more people purchase the baskets for their beauty with museum curators and art collectors among the buyers.  A basket's value increases with age and with proper care will last indefinitely, reflecting the artist's skill at designing as well as crafting the object.  They are considered an investment, with many existing Lowcountry baskets a century or more old.  Ms. Scott will tell you the baskets she creates are her pride and joy and she feels a connection to each one.  Every basket is unique, some with lids or handles, others round or oblong.  Many have bottom or top knots with designs of light or dark cream or brown, depending on the grasses chosen.  Come to the convention and see for yourself how these beautiful creations are woven from coastal grasses. 

Ms. Scott will demonstrate the art of Sweetgrass Basket making from 4 to 7 p.m. on the opening day, Thursday October 16th.  She will be available in the lobby of the Crown Plaza Hotel during registration and will have a formal presentation on the history of South Carolina Sweetgrass Basket making at 6:45 p.m. on Thursday evening.  You can purchase one of her baskets as well if you would like to take home a souvenir of the PGM convention. Read more about this art-form in Rosengarten, Dale (1986) Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry or in the Proceedings of the Sweetgrass Basket Conference (1988, March 26).  Both publications are available from the McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

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Mailing address: Pi Gamma Mu, 1001 Millington St., Suite B, Winfield, KS 67156.

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