Michael Smalls, a 7th generation basket-sewer, was taught by his great-grandmother, Lucinda Pringle, who own mother was an enslaved worker on Mt. Pleasant's Laurel Hill Plantation. Michael describes sewing baskets as a spiritual experience. "When the sewer comes" the designs seem to come out of nowhere and he can sew them more beautifully and quickly.
MIchael fondly remembers playing with basket remnants as his family sewed baskets under the trees. One day, it was decided that the time had come for Michael to learn and he was allowed to try his hand at small, flat coasters. Like so many of his contemporaries, he returned to the craft much later in life, determined to preserve it.
Dino Badger, a former apprentice of Michael Smalls, now partners with him, creating baskets and appearing in educational demostrations throughout the state. If you look closely at his baskets, you may be able to tell he is a left-handed by the way his first knot and coil head in the direction opposite those of other makers.
Often as they sew, Michael and Dino pray for the well-being of the basket's future owner.
History Of This Amazing Art Form
Sweetgrass basket sewing is a craft that originated in Sierra Leone, West Africa and was brought to the Lowcountry of South Carolina by enslaved African people. Basketry was first used for the harvesting of rice, fruits, and vegetables on the plantations of the Lowcountry, and later used for decorative purposes.
The techniques of sweetgrass baskets are passed down from generation to generation in order to keep the craft alive. We were taught the skill by our grandmother and great-grandmother at an early age. We are proud seventh generation Basket Sewers who come from descendants of Laurel Hill Plantation of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
The Basket making process requires a great deal of patience, dedication, and creativity as there are no set patterns. Each piece is unique and in time an artist develops his or her own style of basket making. As basket sewers, we pledge to continue to carry on the traditional craft as long as there are raw materials available, as the development of rural areas are threatening the supply.