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A Lowcountry Legend: Mary Jackson

A Lowcountry Legend: Mary Jackson

With a devotion to perfection and a penchant for innovation, Mary Jackson has taken the age-old art of sweetgrass basket weaving to the world stage

Rows of coiled sweetgrass baskets stretch out across the tables in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic City Market, basket weaver beside basket weaver, fingers ticking away over sweetgrass and palmetto. So it has been for decades, today’s weavers only the latest practitioners of this Gullah tradition, one of the oldest surviving African art forms in the United States. The arrival of any one new basket weaver at the Market is not, in itself, cause for particular note. Yet when Mary Jackson first displayed her baskets here one Saturday in 1980, she says, “people stopped in their tracks.”

Looking at photos in her small Charleston studio recently, Jackson finds a picture of one of the baskets she first displayed that day. “It’s not far away from a traditional idea,” she says, “and it’s using the same traditional materials…” But the basket—a shallow bowl with a high sweeping handle—was unlike anything seen before. At once timeless and contemporary, it seems to have been built upon perfect circular molds, the handle incredibly thin and graceful, the sweetgrass coils exceptionally precise, loops of palmetto ribbons fanning out across them in almost geometric perfection. It is an architectural miracle.

“I didn’t want to have something somebody else had,” Jackson says. “I had learned the traditional designs and mastered the traditional technique. I thought, I know all this, and I wanted to try something new.”

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They're really Beautiful Sweetgrass Baskets!

_ :) t.b.

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A Lowcountry Legend: Mary Jackson
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18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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