Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A family name

We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.
~Shirley Abbott

There is a stretch of Highway 17 north of Charleston where you will find sweet grass basket crafts people in lean-to shacks at the side of the road. They are selling their baskets and weaving as they await customers. As a collector of this fine Low Country art, I hold these people at roadside in greatest esteem and have long coveted, and talked myself out of, both a beehive basket and a huge low circular bowl in tonalities; literally, it seems, forever.

As a collector, I watch the craft: The skill is passed down generationally, largely in Gullah, and Gullah-descended families of South Carolina and Georgia. There are seventh generation weavers by the side of Highway 17. And there are limited family names associated with the purveyance of these goods as this is a carefully guarded skill and commodity within the Low Country.

While in Charleston recently, I was flipping through Charleston Weddings in a quiet moment and came across this inset and photo:

This beautiful new wedding-inspired seed pearl twist on the traditional sweet grass basket was both stunning and perfect for flower girl tasks, but also vaguely familiar to me somehow.

Then it occurred to me: I knew that family name. The weaving artist of the basket and inset above is Annette Mazyck. Not surprisingly in this handed-down craft, she bears the same surname as a legendary weaver of sweetgrass once featured prominently in the book, By Southern Hands, by Jan Arnow (which I wrote of previously)named Elizabeth Mazyck. Her work appears at the center of the examples below. Arnow notes in caption, "Elizabeth Mazyck created this unusual rectangular basket on a oval foundation by bending, but not breaking, the corners of the bulrush as she coiled it."

At the top is my coveted beehive. But I digress.

I reached home and checked my copy of the text to find I was indeed correct and Annette Mazyck was moving the tradition forward, tying all the care of generations into marriages everywhere, and that Charleston Weddings had thankfully hailed her as a visionary, I smiled and happily moved on with my day.

I pass this on to all of you, not only to warm you with lovely cultural notes, but also in hopes you will find places in your homes, events, and everyday tasks for the work of generational American artisans.

Photo 1: Charleston Weddings. Photos 2 and 3: By Southern Hands, Jan Arnow.


Martha said...

Living on the prairie, I've heard about them but never seen one. What a lovely tradition.

An Aesthete's Lament said...

As a Southerner with many relations in and around Charleston, I have always been fascinated by sweetgrass basketry. It is a ravishing technique and, strangely, still unsullied by the taint of "souvenir" that belabor so many overhyped regional crafts. It has authenticity.

Southern Aspirations said...

I have heard of this, but not seen it up close. I LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing.

Cass @ That Old House said...

Beautiful baskets. No, beautiful doesn't really cover it -- those baskets go beyond "good looks" as they carry in their bones the skills and traditions of generations of American artisans.

Another good argument for driving South instead of flying -- I would love one of these iconic baskets, and to buy it from the hands of its maker would be a thrill.

Thanks -- Cass

LPC said...

Very, very, lovely. Agree, authentic is the right word. Does any online shop sell these?

little augury said...

the baskets are beautiful and I too have seen them in and around Charleston. I need to get that book. The beehive baskets is my favorite too. It reminds me of the onion shaped domes on Russian Churches. I am keeping up with your blog and I have added it to my blog lists. la