VideoSnype and Eartha Lee Washington find more value and meaning in using the traditional sweetgrass than the more widely available bulrush. Video is provided by McKissick Museum, University of South...
Henrietta Snype is a native of Mount Pleasant and comes from a long line of sweetgrass basket makers. Her skill and dedication to the artform have garnered her a reputation as a thoughtful, effective, and innovative artist who weaves history, culture, and love into each basket. Snype’s work has been featured at venues in the Lowcountry and in museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African Art.
Like many from the small Gullah community known as Six Mile, Snype grew up making baskets. She recalls learning the tradition from her grandmother and often recounts memories of watching her elders make baskets. For them, sweetgrass basketry was both practical and artistic. Snype learned the various "sewing" techniques by watching, listening, and practicing. Almost as important, she also learned about the environment – how to recognize and differentiate between sweetgrass and bulrush, safe locations to harvest sweetgrass, and how to adapt to a changing landscape that limits access to the once abundant sweetgrass.
Sweetgrass basketmaking was born in the Lowcountry as a utilitarian craft used in the harvesting and cultivation of rice. Today, baskets are found decorating walls and tables in hotels, restaurants, and homes across the country.
Snype sees her work as a testament to the strength and longevity of Gullah people and her African ancestors. Each year, she conducts workshops for public and private schools throughout Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester counties and has driven as far as Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia to conduct programs. She does countless demonstrations for school children and young adults at venues like the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the Preservation Society, the Charleston Area Visitors Bureau, and the annual Sweetgrass Festival in Mount Pleasant.
Snype's creations have been commissioned by schools, museum shops, business owners, and private art collectors. Her workshops teach the craft to young people, while exploring the history of the craft, helping participants understand that basketmaking is an artform with very practical roots. Thousands of youngsters and adults have benefited from her passion, vision, and commitment to the sweetgrass basket tradition. On the importance of passing on the tradition, she says "I have to take this on a different journey, not just because I want to make a dollar here or there, I want to be able to preserve this…And if we don't teach it to our children – because I consider myself in the middle generation – then there is not another generation.” She is truly a consummate artist, storyteller, and advocate for this Lowcountry tradition. Snype received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2018.
VideoSnype and Washington discuss the innovations in sweetgrass basket design and the progression through various basket types. Video is provided by McKissick Museum, University of South Carolina.
AudioHenrietta Snype talks about her dependence on her basketmaking tool.
AudioHenrietta Snype occasionally gives baskets as gifts.
DocumentThe document includes transcripts for Henrietta Snype's audio.
PhotoBasketmaker from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
AudioHenrietta Snype shares how long it takes her to make baskets.
AudioHenrietta Snype talks about the purse basket.