Mary Jackson, Cobra with Handle, 2007. Jack Alterman, Photograph.
For weaver Mary Jackson, basketmaking is a family tradition. Her
grandmother and mother taught
her basic traditional designs and
techniques when she was a child.
She returned to basketmaking and
began to fully understand the significance of the craft.
Baskets have been an Male slaves first made large
integral part of everyday workbaskets from bulrush, a marsh
life in every civilization grass similar to the grasses used in
and every part of the world. Africa. Women made baskets for
Predating pottery and woven cloth, bread, sewing, clothes and other
this art of making objects from tree storage needs. They used a local
bark and plant fibers can be traced grass, Muhlenbergia filipes, com-all the way back to prehistoric monly called sweetgrass because
times. According to archaeolo- “ of its pleasant fragrance. Mary gists, early humans made the I learned all the traditional designs, Jackson and other basketmak- first clay pots by pressing clay basic techniques, and then started ers of the South Carolina low
around baskets. Baskets were designing forms that are different country often combine bulrush
used mostly for gathering and from the traditional ones. —Mary Jac” with sweet grass because it dries toring food or for transporting to a rich, dark color, and the two bjects. As people moved, they kson grasses together create a striking
took their basketmaking traditions Mary Jackson continues the pattern. The four basic basketmak-with them, often using the natural 300–year-old tradition, but she oc- ing techniques are weaving, plait-materials found there. casionally makes changes. She has ing, twining, and coiling. Coiling is
Sweetgrass baskets are part of introduced the use of pine needles used for sweetgrass baskets. Baskets
a long tradition that crossed the and palmetto fibers, for example, can be named for the materials
Atlantic Ocean in slave ships. Craft and shies away from strictly tra- from which they were made, the
artist Mary Jackson honors this tra- ditional forms. She takes pride in location in which they were made,
dition of her ancestors, incorporat- teaching her family and others by the people who made them or an
ing her own contemporary designs. showing them the ways of the past. object the baskets resemble.