Exquisite Gullah-Geechee Baskets Are Now on Etsy

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Exquisite Gullah-Geechee Baskets Are Now on Etsy

This week, Etsy announced a new installment of its Uplift Makers Program, an initiative that “serves to provide financial opportunities to historic artisan communities that often face economic hardships,” according to a blog post on the announcement. The program is a partnership between Nest, Souls Grown Deep, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, and its first iteration focused on the quiltmakers of Gee’s Bend, Alabama. Now, in the continuing motif of bringing light and commercial support to the master artisans of niche Southern communities, the Uplift Makers Program will help present the work of Gullah-Geechee basket-makers who reside in the Lowcountry of Charleston, South Carolina, and the adjacent barrier islands.

The Gullah-Geechee people have roots going back to West Africa, where their ancestors were enslaved and brought to the US to plant rice. As one of the many adaptive techniques in response to this violent displacement, Gullah discovered the materials similar to those from their homeland, and used them to craft large fanner baskets to winnow rice (separating the chaff from the hull). Enslaved Gullah people managed to preserve and innovate the weaving techniques traditional to their culture, and their ancestors continue to make exquisitely woven and patterned baskets out of sweetgrass, pine needles, bulrush, and palmetto palm.

Due to the isolated nature of the coastal and island plantations, Gullah-Geechee culture developed in a unique way among the diaspora — complete with its own language, Gullah, which is a creole variant spoken only in this region. The National Park Service’s Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission now oversees the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, established by an act of Congress in 2006. The Corridor runs from Pender County North Carolina to St. Johns County, Florida.

The Uplift Makers program has moved to support contemporary Gullah basket-weavers as they continue this unique tradition that can be traced back over 10 generations. Featured participants include Gullah Weavers (Vera Manigault), whose baskets can also double as structural purses; Vanessa R Baskets (Vanessa Robinson), who has an extraordinary example of the “elephant ear” motif common in this practice; and CHS Sweetgrass (Andrea Cayetano Jefferson), whose shop includes woven earrings and palmetto crosses and other decorative items, in addition to baskets. These are just a few of more than a dozen basket-makers to be supported in this initiative.

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