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A Sea Island Basket by National Heritage Fellow Mary Jane Manigault

The William C. Sturtevant collection includes a nice group of coiled, sea grass baskets created by the African American weavers of the Sea Island region near Charleston, South Carolina. The better documented of these were collected by William C. Sturtevant in 1959. In this group is the basket shown above. It was made by Mary Jane Manigault (1913-2010), a basket maker who would go on (25 years later) to be awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984.

There is a rich literature about the Sea Island basketry tradition. A recent work is the exhibition catalog Grass Roots: The African Origins of an American Art. The volume was edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout and published by the Museum of African Art in 2008. The associated exhibition led to free online resources on the subject being made available through the Museum of African Art, the National Museum of African Art, and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

Interestingly, one of William Sturtevant’s photographs from his 1959 visit to the Sea Island region was featured in the Grass Roots exhibition’s online presence. It is an image of Pearl Dingle weaving a basket at her family’s stand in Mt. Pleasant South Carolina. You can see it on the McKissick website.

The rich obituary for Mrs. Manigault published on the website for the documentary film Bin Yah: There is No Place Like Home is definitely worth checking out. It notes that her baskets are among those in the amazing Sea Island collection curated at the Mathers Museum (at Indiana University) where I work as a Faculty Curator. The NEA National Heritage Fellow profile for her is another great online resource.

This basket is currently identified as T331 and is from the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dale Rosengarten #

    Have you seen the large collection of baskets made by Mary Jane Manigault and family members, collected by Greg Day in Mt. Pleasant in the 1970s and accompanied by four volumes of field notes at at NMAH? Contact Curator Fath Ruffins for a look.

    September 16, 2012
  2. Roslyn Tanzman (718 896-6998) 99-62 65th Road, Rego Park, N.Y. 11374 #

    Many years ago (20-30) I purchased a beautiful seagrass basket from Marie Manigault at her booth near Charleston. I believe she is the same Mary Jane Manigault who is listed above. Over the years the large handle has unravelled and I would like to have it repaired by a quality basket weaver. Can you make a recommendation for a quality weaver who would make this repair? A family member would be first choice if one is weaving baskets of this high quality but I would appreciate any recommendation. Thank you so much for any information. Appreciatively, Roz Tanzman, Queens, N.Y.

    October 10, 2012

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