Exhibit on display at Penn Center
The York W. Bailey Museum at the historic Penn Center proudly presents the debut exhibition of “The Beaufort Basket” by sweetgrass basket maker Jery Bennett-Taylor on Saturday, July 16. This will be the first in a series of exhibits celebrating Gullah traditional art in South Carolina. The gallery will also preview the film, “Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art”, a companion to the national traveling exhibit by the Museum of Art, at noon. The exhibit opens at 1 p.m. followed by a lecture and demonstration by Ms. Taylor from 2 to 4 p.m.
This exhibition of ten original pieces is the first revival in Beaufort of the 300-year old native island coiled “work” basketry once practiced by generations of slaves who transported the craft from Africa. This museum-quality collection was inspired by the 150-year old “Penn School baskets” that were formerly made by the men using the fibrous bulrush plant found in the marshes. This exclusive collection of original bulrush baskets in various sizes, also includes a rare and unique “Marsh Tackey” sweetgrass basket that has never before been shown publicly.
Ms. Taylor has used a certain weaving technique reminiscent of the native island style, which has separated her from other basket weavers. She says that she has tried to capture the “soul” in the ancient baskets of her ancestors to re-create an authentic representation. This exhibit will also compare original heirloom baskets from the Penn School Collection with Ms. Taylor’s reproductions.
The Penn School’s history of Sea Island basketry goes back to the early 1900’s when its founders added the craft to the school’s curriculum and later instituted a mail-order catalog business to raise revenue for the school. A recently published account of the 300-year documented history of the origin of African basket making in America is beautifully illustrated with photographs from the Penn School Collection in the book “Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art,” published by the Museum for African Art.
Jery Bennett-Taylor is widely collected and is regarded as a master weaver in the circle of native Mt. Pleasant basketmakers. Born in the Christ Parish Church community of Mt. Pleasant, she has been making baskets since she was five years old and is the third generation of basket weavers in her family. A resident of Walterboro, she is currently the only practicing basketmaker in the St. Helena Island community. A highly recognized artist, Jery Taylor has presented workshops in many museums and has exhibited baskets in the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Over the past three years, she has also become a self-taught folk artist and her paintings, which will also be exhibited, capture the essence of Gullah life growing up on Boone Hall Plantation.
Own a piece of history today; these baskets will undoubtedly appreciate in value. All baskets will be sold to the public. The exhibit closes on August 26. For more information, contact the York W. Bailey Museum at (843) 838-2474 or visit the Penn Center, 16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island, SC 29920. Museum admission is $5-adults; $3-children under 17 years old. Penn Center is a nonprofit organization.