Charles Williams Photo Gallery | Digital Traditions

Charles "CeCe" Williams has been making handcarved walking canes for over twenty five years, and cast nets since he was a boy growing up fishing with his father in McClellanville. As Chief Detective for the Naval Base Police, Williams finds these traditional pastimes help him to relax. Also, in looking for wood to make his canes, he is able to spend time outside in the woods, a very prominent activity throughout William’s life.

His father taught Mr. Williams the art of cast net making at a very early age. Traditionally, each family in the African American community had two nets: a shrimp net with a fine mesh that would not let anything through it, and a “poor man’s” or “sifter” net that only kept larger fish. Both nets were circular. Williams makes both of these nets, although instead of using cotton cord, he uses longer-lasting nylon. He employs the slip knot technique to make his nets, a method that combines two types of ties: knots and loops. The knots make up the bulk of the net mesh, while the loops add wideners to the net and allow it to open up flat on the surface of the water. Each net takes him approximately 200 to 300 hours to make, depending on the size of the mesh.

Williams began carving canes as a kind of joke. One day, while walking through the woods, he noticed how vines would twist around tree saplings, forcing the trees to grow in interesting shapes. These twisted trees have long been associated with African American root doctors who used canes made from them to perform voodoo or magic. Williams cut several of the trees down thinking it would be interesting to peel off the vines and expose the twisted shape. When bringing back this bag of saplings, Mr. Williams jokingly held it up to one of his friends, claming he was going to “put a root” on him. His friend came back with an even bigger bag of saplings with the same teasing threat. Together they began making canes out of the roots of the trees. Sometimes leaving them natural and other times carving on them animal motifs, such as alligators, birds, and rattlesnakes, or carving names and sayings on them.

Mr. Williams has exhibited his works at Brookgreen Gardens, in the exhibition Works by Contemporary African-American Artists at Nations Bank, Middleton Gardens Plantation, and Drayton Hall Plantation. He also has demonstrated at various festivals throughout South Carolina, including the McClellanville Shrimp Fest and the South Carolina Shrimp Fest.

In addition, Mr. Williams has participated in many educational programs in conjunction with the South Carolina Arts Commission and the Charleston Housing Authority. Williams received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1997.