Eight-year-old Jacob Good thought weaving a sweetgrass basked looked pretty easy until he tried it.
Jacob and other third-grade students at York’s Hunter Street Elementary School learned the age-old craft — practiced for more than 300 years in South Carolina coastal areas — during their art class last week.
Charleston sweetgrass basket artist Sarah Hammond visited the school for three days to teach students about the craft. Hammond learned to make the baskets from her mother when she was 7.
“It’s a dying art form,” said art teacher Diane Brown. She said the sweetgrass used to make the baskets is increasingly difficult to find because much of the land where it once grew wild has been developed.
“And that ties into all sorts of conservation issue we talk about,” she said.
Hammond’s visit was funded with part of a $3,500 state art curricular innovations grant written by Brown and Hunter Street music teacher Donna Fields. The grant also will pay for a visit to Fields’ class by Charleston artist Hawk Hurst, who will talk about Native American gourd making and music.
Brown said the artist visits tie into the third-grade curriculum of South Carolina history and culture, which includes the Gullah culture. Sweetgrass baskets are one of the most visible parts of the Gullah culture.
The sweetgrass baskets are made by coiling the grass and sewing it in place with palm leaves, Brown explained. Hammond said that because sweetgrass is hard to find, she now gets hers from a relative in Jacksonville, Fla.
“The material is just not as available locally as it used to be,” Hammond said. “Every now and then, you may find a little area where it grows. A lot of people plant their own, but it’s very hard to harvest.”
Third-grade students learned how the art is done by making a small sweetgrass coaster, and a few students made a small basket. Most of them found that it wasn’t easy.
“There is a certain requirement for a lot of attention and a lot of focus,” Brown said about the process. “And it takes a lot of stick-to-itness, which was new to many of them.”