The culture, traditions and history
With Master Basket Maker
Sweetgrass baskets have become a favorite collector’s item and a top souvenir when visiting the Low Country along the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Their beautiful artistic designs and appreciation for the craft have made them popular with collectors and the subject of many books, basket weaving classes, and studies by historians. The baskets are genuinely fascinating. However, hundreds of years before their popularity as an art form, the baskets were considered agricultural and work tools to harvest and process crops on the Southern Plantations. One of the most used of the work baskets is a Fanner basket that was used on the rice plantation to winnow the rice chaff away after they had been removed using a mortar and pestle. A Fanner basket is one of the more historically significant work baskets and most requested by collectors.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, enslaved Africans were brought over from the rice regions along the Gold Coast of West Africa to plant, harvest, and process rice. In the Low Country areas, rice became the money crop with many plantations along the coastal regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida growing and harvesting rice, using enslaved labor. During this time, a tremendous amount of wealth was accumulated for the rice plantation owners.
Yvonne Grovner is a master basket maker living on Sapelo Island with her husband, Iregene. He is also a basket maker. She recently retired from her work on the island providing historical tours for the State of Georgia.
Yvonne learned how to make baskets from Allen Green, a renowned master basket maker on the island. Before his passing, he taught Yvonne and several other residents on the island. Mr. Green has baskets in the Smithsonian Museum. Yvonne taught her husband, two children, and granddaughter to make baskets. Her belief in preserving this vital part of Geechee-Gullah culture is evident in the many classes and presentations she provides to help others learn about the tradition and become basket makers.
Sapelo Island is one of the barrier islands located along the Georgia coast. The island has one of the oldest intact Geechee cultures in the United States. African American residents on the island are the defendants of the enslaved workers who lived and worked on the plantations during the Antebellum area. Today some residents are the 10th generation continuing to live on their ancestral land. Tourism is a significant part of the island’s economy, and visitors can purchase the handmade baskets at the local store named The Grab All.
On the island, you will find the materials used in Sweetgrass baskets growing around the wet areas. Yvonne and other Sapelo basket makers collect the materials and process the grasses themselves. This part of the basket making process makes them genuinely handmade from start to finish. In many other places where the baskets are made, the materials become limited, and crafters need to purchase the materials or find similar grasses to use instead of the sweetgrass. When visiting Sapelo Island, your tour guide can point out the grasses and Sawtooth Palmetto growing naturally along the road.
Contact Yvonne to have her make a basket, especially for you! Her email address is – [email protected], or call her at – 912-506-0944
Gather ’round and listen to the lively conversation with Annita and Yvonne. You’ll want to plan a visit to Sapelo Island and other destinations along the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
To learn more about the areas that are part of the corridor, visit their website: www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org and to plan a visit check out the website site: www.visitgullahgeechee.com/category/where-to-go/
For a visit to Sapelo Island check out the website – www.sapeloislandbirdhouses.com
Take a seat as we travel to Sapelo Island and through the years of Sweetgrass Baskets with Yvonne Grovner.
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Photos of Yvonne and her baskets
Watch the Martin Clunes video featuring both the Gullah – Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, Sapelo Island, and Yvonne.
Here’s where you’ll find each:
Gullah – Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (12:57)
Sapelo Island starting at (16:25)
Yvonne Grovner and Martin Clunes making baskets – (23:33)
Here’s a video of Yvonne where she is collecting materials and sharing her love of making baskets.
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