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The Ultimate Charleston Souvenir

The Ultimate Charleston Souvenir

August 28, 2018

Historically rooted in the rural Mt. Pleasant communities around Boone Hall Plantation, the art of sweetgrass basket weaving dates to the early colonial days when enslaved people in the area crafted and used the tightly wound baskets made of sweetgrass, bulrush, longleaf pine needles and palmetto fronds to winnow rice and store other dry goods. Generations later, the time-consuming tradition—it can take upwards of four days to create one standard-sized basket—continues, thanks to dedicated artisans like Cory Alston, who began weaving seventeen years ago when he married into a fifth-generation family of weavers.

 A gifted artist, Alston is also equal parts businessman and historian. Visit him at the entrance to the City Market on Meeting Street for a museum-quality education on the Gullah/Geechee culture that birthed the city’s iconic art form. “There are parts of our culture you can’t find in a book or a newspaper article or even an ETV special,” Alston says. “You have to talk to the people who are living it.” To ensure the Gullah craft doesn’t disappear in the digital age, Alston is modernizing. He’s one of the few weavers on Facebook, and he also introduced the app Build Your Own Sweetgrass Basket. If you don’t see something you like on your visit, the 3-D capable app lets you dream up your own. The finished design is emailed to Alston, who will then make your piece by hand and have it shipped to your front door.

But if you want to do you’re shopping locally, Alston recommends these three traditions basket patterns, which are usually in stock:  

Rice Fanning Basket

The original. This round flat circle with short shallow walls—historically used for separating the rice from its husk—looks great hanging on a wall or above a bed or mantel.

Bread Basket

This utilitarian style is Alston’s most requested and perfect for everyday use. You can also customize the size depending on your needs or preference.

Elephant Ear Basket

The most artful design of the bunch—and the most time consuming to make—the Elephant Ear, which is more decorative than useful, would not have been made pre–Civil War.

Thank You