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Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art collection

Identifier: AMN 1149

Scope and Contents

The Grass Roots Collection holds fifteen (15) series with various sub-series:

Series 1: National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) Grant, 2005-2006, 2010: Holds grant applications, drafts of grant narratives, correspondence, and various editions of object listings of material culture to be featured in exhibits.

Series 2: Grass Roots Fundraising, 2001-2012: Contains typed and handwritten notes regarding budget and timeline, and funding prospects; correspondence and proposals regarding the exhibit and video documentary to various granting agencies.

Series 3: Sweetgrass Steering Committee, 1987-2007: This community-based committee held a meeting on December 9-10, 2005 that brought together a group of preeminent scholars, a large contingent of basket makers and other stakeholders for the inception of a traveling exhibition. Holds images on a DVDs, correpondence, meeting and workshop agendas, handwritten notes, and newspaper articles.

Series 4: Museum of African Art, New York, 1996-2009, and undated: This museum was a major organizer for the Grass Roots exhibition. Holds information on co-curator/catalogue co-editor, Enid Schildkrout, Ph.D; museum fact sheets and press kits, Grass Roots promotional documents, correspondence, planning meeting notes, and financial records regarding travel.

Series 5: Exhibit Loan Requests and Agreements, 2000-2009, and undated: Contains correspondence, potential lender lists, basket outline/object lists, brochures, handwritten notes, photographs, and loan agreement forms regarding the acquisition of baskets from individuals, families, and cultural insititutions for the exhibition.

Series 6: Grass Roots Exhibit Catalogue Publication, 1998-2010, and undated: Several sub-series which holds publication references resources, and chapter proofs, pertaining to the creation of the Grass Roots exhibition catalogue. The catalogue includes "photographs of baskets, sculptures, and paintings from the exhibition, and historical images and maps. Rosengarten as co-curator contributes chapters tracing the history of the Lowcountry basket and its African antecedents. Ethnographer Enid Schildkrout analyzes form and function over time in African basketry. Historians, anthropologists, art historians, a geographer, and a basket maker contribute topical essays and commentaries on specific works in the exhibition, and provides a rich historial and cultural context for the coiled baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry."

Series 7: Grass Roots: The Enduring Art of the Lowcountry Basket Video Documentary Production, 2004-2013, and undated: A film made by videographer, Dana Sardet, focuses on Mt. Pleasant(SC) basket makers harvesting materials used to create their baskets, making their baskets, and talking about the meaning of their work. "This documentary explores the current state of this kind of coiled grass basketry in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and what its future may be." Holds log books, journals, grant funding documents, video release forms, and correspondence.

Series 8: Grass Roots Exhibition, 2008-2015, and undated: Contains text panel descriptions, correspondence, promotional documents, pertaining to the various venues of this exhibition. Includes journal essays, magazine and newspaper articles regarding the exhibit. Also holds the various presentations and public programs done in junction of the Grass Roots exhibition.

Series 9: Grass Roots National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) on the Road, 2006-2011: In a cooperative agreement with the NEH, the Mid-America Arts Alliance manages all aspects of the exhibitions for touring. The Arts Alliance hosted the Grass Roots exhibition on a small scale at various venues. The series holds exhibit catalogs, brochures, educational and final checklists.

Series 10: Sweetgrass Basket Makers, 1985-2018, and undated: Contains a variety of magazine and newspaper articles, brochures, rack cards, directories, post and business cards of predominantly Mt. Pleasant based Sweetgrass basket makers, including Mary Foreman Jackson, Henrietta Snype, and Nakia Wigfall. Includes "Sweetgrass Basketmakers Family Tree" by Lynn Michelshon, and typescript, Sweetgrass Basketmakers: Pioneers and the Phillips Community History." Basket makers are listed in alphabetical order.

Series 11: Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association (SCAFA), 2005-2017, and undated: Holds newsletters, promotional documents, correspondence pertaining and produced by SCFA. This series contains the sub-series: Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association, and The Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival, their annual event.

Series 12: Lowcountry Heritage Initiative, 2000-2008, and undated: Designated by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as a "We the People" America's Historic Places project, the initiative goals was to focus attention on the basket makers and their community and to identify hertiage sites associated with the craft and with the history of rice cultivation. Contains two sub-series: Sweetgrass Family Album and Heritage Tour Guide, which holds "Interview and Photographic Agreement and Release Forms," interview transcripts, event flyers, planning itineraries, correspondence, financial documents, brochures, catalogs, DVDs and pertaining to designated Lowcountry historical and interpretive sites. Also noted were points of sale of Lowcountry baskets.

Series 13: Various Insititutions and Organizations, 1994-2011, and undated: Contains catalogs, typescripts, brocuhres, and notes pertaining to organizations that were in association and/or references to the Grass Roots project. Organized in alphabethical order.

Series 14: Grass Roots Correspondence, 1993, 2001-2010, and undated: Holds various and extraneous letters, emails, and greeting cards sent directly and indirectly pertaining to Grass Roots. Organized by year.

Series 15: AudioVisual Material, 1936-1939, 1972, 1994-2008, and undated: Contains digital versatile discs (DVDs), digital audio tapes (DATS), and VHS tapes pertaining to the creation of the Grass Roots film documentary, book publication, and exhibition. Contains three sub-series: Grass Roots Original Tapes, Grass Roots Digital Versatile Discs (DVD), and Commercial AudioVisual Materials, which contains a variety recordings in the form of VHS videocassettes and DVD videodiscs used as reference resourses in the production of the Grass Roots exhibition and documentary.


  • Creation: 1936-2017, and undated
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1998 - 2015


Access Restrictions

No restrictions. The Grass Roots collection is open and available for use.

Copyright Notice

The nature of the Avery Research Center's archival holdings means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Avery Research Center claims only physical ownership of most archival materials.

The materials from our collections are made available for use in reseearch, teaching, and private study, pursuant to U.S. copyright law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of materials, including but not limited to, infrigement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical Note

Dale Rosengarten, an historian, curated the exhibition Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry, which opened in 1986 at the McKissick Museum, at the University of South Carolina, and has had a twenty-year run as a traveling show. Her doctoral dissertation, completed in 1997, traces the social origins of the Lowcountry basket and places the tradition in a global setting. Since 1995, Rosengarten has served as a curator in Special Collections at the College of Charleston library. In that capacity she built a major archive on southern Jewish history and culture, developed a national traveling exhibition, "A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life," and co-edited a book of the same name. Rosengarten co-curated the "Grass Roots" exhibition with ethnographer, Enid Schildkrout.

From the exhibtion catalogue: Grass Root: African Origins of an American Art.


15.0 linear feet

Language of Materials



Collection contains documents based on the traveling exhibition (orginially entitled, Transcendent Traditions: Baskets of Two Continents (2008-2010) which traced "the parallel histories of coiled baskets in Africa and American staring from the domestication of rice in Africa two centuries ago, through the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Carolina rice plantation, to the present. "The exhibition placed Lowcountry basketry in a larger context, presenting African baskets for their aesthetic qualities, historical importance, and specific links the African-American tradition. Documents include those obtained in the creation of this exhibition; research notes, photographs and field interviews undertaken by Dale Rosengarten, PhD., and Dana Sardet videographer over a twenty year period. The collection also includes historical documents, correspondence, grant funding documents, photographs, interviews with basket makers, field notes, and video footage related to this project.

Collection Arrangement

This collection is arranged in chronological order in relationship to the events indicated. Various series groups happenned co-currently or throughout the creation of this exhibition.

Series 1: National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) Grant, 2005-2006, 2010

Series 2: Grass Roots Fundraising, 2001-2012

Series 3: Sweetgrass Steering Committee, 1987-2007

Series 4: Museum of African Art, New York, NY, 1996-2009, and undated

Series 5: Exhibit Loan Requests and Agreements, 2000-2009, and undated

Series 6: "Grass Roots" Exhibit Catalogue Publication Production, 1998-2010, and undated

Series 7: "Grass Roots: The Enduring Art of the Lowcountry Basket" Video Documentary, 2004-2013

Series 8: "Grass Roots" Exhibition, 2008-2015, and undated

Series 9: "Grass Roots" National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) on the Road, 2006-2011

Series 10: Sweetgrass Basket Makers, 1985-2018

Series 11: Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association (SCAFA), 2005-2017, and undated

Series 12: Lowcountry Heritage Initiative, 2000-2008, and undated

Series 13: Various Institutions and Organizations, 1994-2011, and undated

Series 14: Grass Roots Correspondence, 1993, 2001-2010

Series 15: Audio-Visual Materials, 1936-1939, 1972, 1994-2008, and undated

Related Materials

Museum catalogue: Grass Roots: African Origins of An American Art by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout, with additional contributors.

Processing Information

Processed and finding aid by Georgette Mayo, 2019-2020.

Georgette Mayo
May 2020
Description rules
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture Repository

125 Bull Street
Charleston South Carolina 29424 United States