Jennings prefers trees that are between 6 and 8 inches in diameter and he only uses the trunk below the first set of branches. He begins by splitting the trunk with an ax, scraping and splitting the sections into weavers, rims, lashers and handles. The darker oak strips that were closest to the bark are used for decorative color bands. Jennings is one of the last traditional white oak weavers left in the state of Florida.
The second type of traditional Seminole weaving, twill plaited river cane, is a vanishing art form. The river cane, a bamboo like shrub, is no longer readily available. As the supply dwindled, the Seminoles began using split palmetto stems. Palmetto-stem baskets were used in sifting pounded corn to separate the meal from hard kernels.
While still in her youth, Waldron was taught the art of bias plaiting at the Florida Folk Festival. A woman there was teaching "Peter Pan" style hats made from saw palmetto fronds. The fronds are left attached to the stems, which creates a "corner" at which to start the plaiting. After the hat was finished, the remaining stem (which was not attached to the fronds) is removed. Over time, Waldron decided to leave the stem attached and see what would happen. A berry basket was the result. The free end of the stem is tucked into the other side of the basket to make a handle. The left over fronds are plaited in a tubular shape and are for decorative purposes only.
Rice was the dominant crop of the southeast coast in the 1700's. Rice was also a common crop in coastal West Africa. For this reason, many slaves were brought to the US from these regions of Africa. These slaves brought with them many traditions, one of which was the art of coiling. Winnowing baskets were made from bulrush with strips of oak used as the stitching material. The men made these sturdy baskets because they had the strength to control the tough materials. As time moved on and slavery ended, small groups of former slaves moved onto the small coastal barrier islands, taking their traditions with them. Women on these islands began to coil the long, thin grasses instead of the heavy bulrushes. The finer grasses allowed for finer more delicate baskets.
In the early 1930's, tourist traffic was increasing to the coastal areas and Route 17 was paved (which connects Mount Pleasant and Charleston, SC). Basket makers began to set up stands along this highway to sell direct to the tourists. Because of this new interaction, basket making flourished in the Charleston area.
Most of Passmore's baskets are begun with pine needles that have been tied into a knot. The needles are more flexible than the grasses, so make a nicer start. The needles and later the grasses are stitched together with strips of palmetto. Often the pine needles are used on the side of the baskets to create patterns or bands of color. The palmetto strips are pushed through holes that are made by poking a sharp object through the coils, traditionally a sharpened spoon.
Burlason is a true pine needle artist. Her work ranges from miniatures, the size of a dime (woven with one needle at a time), to lacy lamps to a purse that includes many different stitches and teneriffe work.
The Stephen Foster Folk Cultural Center State Park put together an enjoyable and educational day. Programs such as this are an inspiration to weavers and non-weavers alike. Hopefully, the success of this day will encourage other organizations to develop craft programs that will keep these traditions alive.
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The Country Seat, Inc.
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Kempton, Pennsylvania 19529-9321 USA
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