Those of you who know me personally or have been following my blog, know that I am part of a women’s group called P.E.O., which stands for Philanthropic Educational Organization. I have been a member for over 34 years and delight in the support we provide to women through grants, loans, scholarships and ongoing connections. I recently discovered a Chapter here in South Carolina and joined them yesterday for a very unique experience – one dripping in tradition.
Fourteen of us traveled to Hopsewee Plantation, which was home to Thomas Lynch, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Built in 1740 and located between Georgetown and Charleston, South Carolina, it is now a private residence which can be toured daily. We did not do the tour, but rather had lunch on the grounds in The River Oak Cottage, before participating in a sweetgrass basket weaving workshop.
Let’s talk lunch first! Reflecting the tastes of the Lowcountry Region, the menu was expansive. A diner could get anything from shrimp and grits to tomato pie; from beet salad to a grilled ham and pimento cheese sandwich; and, from gumbo to creole! I opted for Blue Cheese and Spinach Quiche and was intrigued by the Savories plate, a very creative collection of finger sandwiches!
Following lunch we regrouped in a sitting room area and met our teacher, Vera Manigault, who has been “sewing” – as she describes it – sweetgrass baskets since she was four years old! The art of sewing sweetgrass baskets is unique to the Gullah people of the Lowcountry, and if you travel from Georgetown through Mt. Pleasant to Charleston, you will see numerous roadside stands where families sell their baskets and sit and sew. These basketry skills were brought from Africa over 300 years ago, and today they not only serve as household items, but are also very valuable (and expensive) items of decorative folk-art. Vera also makes jewelry – in fact, she was wearing a beautiful cuff bracelet and gorgeous earrings that she had created. Vera has been featured in several magazines including Southern Living and has been highlighted on CNN as well as the National Geographic Channel. She was also sharing that she had recently done a workshop for a group of middle school summer campers and was working with an assisted living facility next week! Talk about patience!
We all began with a tiny starter – if you will – and then learned how to continue the process – sewing with a piece of palm and starting with pine straw and then blending in sweetgrass. Vera spoke about how calming it is to create these pieces of art – personally, I found it difficult but loved doing it! I guess if you’ve been doing it for most of your life, it might become relaxing! It took us a little over three hours to complete our baskets, three hours of stepping into a very unique tradition. Not having a crafty bone in my body, I was just so proud of myself for completing it and will cherish my sweetgrass basket forever!
Stay Calm and Travel On…