By Lee Scott
Over the past several years, I have driven out to Hunting Island State Park numerous times. Occasionally, I have noticed a woman sitting on the porch of the Gullah Grub Restaurant on Sea Island Parkway and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive working away on baskets. It never occurred to me to stop and talk to her, but fate intervened and we finally met. Her name is Jery B. Taylor and she was the featured speaker at a club meeting I attended recently. She did a presentation on basket-making. Listening to her talk and watching her video gave me a new appreciation of the work that goes into making these baskets.
Many of us have strolled through the Straw Market of Charleston watching the women work, but there is much more to the story. Jery provided us with the history of basket weaving brought over from Africa. Her video revealed the work required to gather and prepare the materials. I was fascinated to learn that the baskets she makes are primarily made of four materials; pine needles, lemon grass, palmetto fronds and bulrush. It turns out that lemon grass is a grass that yields an oil that smells like lemon, hence the name. And bulrush is a tough grass-like plant that can grow up to ten feet in the mud. Anyone familiar with the story of the infant Moses will be interested in knowing that the basket that held him was made out of bulrush.
As we watched the video, I was mesmerized by Jery’s agility in pulling out the lemon grass and bulrush, cutting and splitting it and then placing it out to dry for four or five days. Then to watch her “spin her straw into gold” was fascinating. She explained that the diagonal weave she uses in some of her work is a specific Beaufort design. And although she spoke about the utilitarian value of the baskets, it was the artistic value of the baskets that interested me most. After her presentation, I had lunch with Jery. We chatted about our backgrounds, our sons and the food we like to eat. I am sorry I had not stopped to chat with her before, but if you see her on the porch of Gullah Grub restaurant, do not hesitate to stop. You might find me sitting there too.