Sweet Grass Baskets is one of the oldest recognized African-American art forms and most fascinating forms of basket weaving. Sweet Charleston Designs has taken this Southern history and woven it throughout its craft. This Lowcountry-inspired luxury jewelry collection encompasses custom designs that honor Charleston’s historical past. Read about this artform and the women who are using it as an inspiration to their craft each day!
- Faith and family come first in Tonya, Janie and Angie’s families. While their family backgrounds are different geographically, their core values and history are interconnected in many ways. A great day is when they combine family members and share stories.
- The art form of Sweet Grass Basketry is the oldest recognized African American Art Form in the United States and is produced in the same manner as when it was introduce in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s by enslaved persons from West Africa. To construct a basket one needs the following: long needle pine, bull rush, sweet grass and palmetto strips. The first baskets were used for winnowing rice along the now federally designated Gullah-Geechee corridor.
- Charleston Designs offers a tribute to the art of sweet grass design patterns. Each piece is custom cast or hand embossed depending on the collection. Some collections hand weave 18K gold over sterling or gold, while other collections use precious metals (gold, silver and pewter) and is 100% made in America.
- Janie and Tonya conduct educational programs in school classrooms, during trunk shows, special events and retail settings. A hand’s on learning experience is perhaps the best tool to use to tell the history of the art and illustrate how the basketry can be represented in metal, and its fine jewelry designs. Angie introduced a program on sweet grass history for Mt. Pleasant Academy and was joined by Louise Jefferson, another of Charleston’s basket artist, who demonstrated the craft.
- Sweet Grass Baskets can compliment any level of décor and enhance ones table as a fine dining accessory or offer a simplified yet natural chic look in one’s home. The jewelry transcends causal, to office, to evening as a wearable lesson in history as the collections are truly statement pieces for anyone’s jewelry collection.
Tonya and Janie’s Thoughts
- Finding your passion and appreciation of an art and its history is one of the most meaningful aspect is working to preserve the sweet grass art form.
- Daily challenges often seem as roadblocks but with a shared interest this “team” can find solutions to make their projects come together for a successful completion.
- The support of family is the single most factor in continuing the tradition in the art of sweet grass baskets for Tonya as a 5th generation basket artist. Janie’s marketing skills and entrepreneurial sprit complements her creativity. Her family supports her in most every aspect of the business.
- Both Tonya and Janie attribute their design skills to their mothers, aunts and sisters. They each share stories of sitting on a front porch or in a family room watching their family members either sew a basket, a quilt or item of clothing. They both had experiences of gathering up scraps to make their own craft. Tonya would sew small baskets from the sweet grass scraps and Janie would “design” clothes for her dolls with scraps of fabric.
- Tonya and Janie enjoy travel to new cities, meeting new people with working with others to preserve a bit of history and protecting natural resources. Along the way they cherish new friendships that are made and glean a bit of historical information about the local area.
Tonya: “Working with my family to create large fruit style sweet grass baskets and small trinket baskets that were used as international gifts of protocol by the US State Department and showcased in residence with the Art’s In Embassy program.”
Janie: “To have successfully placed product in the Smithsonian Institutes Gift shops to share the rice winnowing sweet grass basket story on a national level. Janie has procured small baskets from Tonya’s family to be used in the showcase that represent four generations of basket makers from one family. This brings us another step closer to meeting Sweet Charleston Designs original goal.”