|FOCUS ON THE FACULTY|
SOUTHERN JEWISH HISTORY AND SWEETGRASS BASKETS-- AN UNLIKELY DUO?
(Holding Her Governors' Archives Award)
My interview with
Dale Rosengarten was intriguing, as well
as informative. She makes you feel as
passionate and devoted to her work as she is. She
appears relentless in her quest to educate the public
cultures and their history. For 10 years
she studied and written about the history of Lowcountry baskets. Then,
gears, she spearheaded the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of
and curated an exhibition on three centuries of Southern Jewish life.
Rosengarten and her husband and fellow
historian Theodore Rosengarten, live
The Jewish Heritage Collection documents the Jewish experience in South Carolina from colonial times to present day. The collection encompasses memoirs, photographs, movies, and other material. The exhibition that Rosengarten helped develop traveled for two years, after its debut in Columbia, including a six-month run at Yeshiva University Museum in New York City. The exhibit features the remarkable acceptance Jews have enjoyed in South Carolina, though it also looks at controversial issues such as anti-Semitism and Jewish attitudes during the Civil Rights era.
passionate about her work, giving more than 100 percent to whatever
involved with, always willing to lend a helping hand, caring deeply for
students and her work, an motivating everyone who comes in contact with
her,” is the praise library co-worker Claire Fund heaps on
In 1997 Rosengarten completed a Ph.D. dissertation entitled “Social Origins of the African-American Lowcountry Basket” that explored the African origins of a 300-year-old South Carolina tradition. “This ancient folk art,” she explains, “has evolved into the production of sweetgrass baskets, which today are a preeminent symbol of African-American culture and a trademark of the city of Charleston.” The research grew out of an earlier project for USC's McKissick Museum that culminated in 1986 in the exhibition, “Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry.”
The techniques of coiling and sewing grass
passed on from generation to generation. One
of the oldest African art forms in the United States,
were originally made from bulrush by men to store vegetables, staples,
grains, etc. Today,
however, women make the majority of baskets for
sale as gifts,
household containers, decorative pieces, and mostly as souvenirs. Sweetgrass baskets are also purchased by
museums and art collectors throughout the world, such as the Museum of
History at the Smithsonian Institution. The
baskets are also on display at the college’s Avery
for African-American History and Culture.
Descendants of slaves from West Africa continue the tradition today. Basket making is considered a family art that involves entire extended families. As was the custom, men and boys gather the materials, while women and girls “sew” the baskets. Some of the baskets are more time-consuming than others to make, depending on the design and size. Sweetgrass basketry is part of the Lowcountry’s history. The exhibition catalogue Rosengarten wrote, “Row Upon Row,” illustrates the history of the baskets and provides fascinating photographs of individuals making baskets. According to Rosengarten, this project took two years of intensive research and one-on-one interviews before it was published. “I made a lot of friends, that I am still in contact with today, and took a few lessons in basket making,” she says.
Based on the information obtained during our
students interested in research work would really benefit from having
Rosengarten as a mentor or advisor, because she has the knowledge,
patience and experience that will guide them through their educational
and on to a successful career.
Asked what her two subjects-- Charleston's
Jewish history and Lowcountry sweetgrass baskets-- have in
Rosengarten explains, “Both involve ethnography–the study of people. The cultures may be different, but the tools
we use to research and interpret them are the same.” She hopes that
visit the Jewish Heritage Collection will gain some insight as to the
and triumphs that these immigrants endured. When reading about
baskets, or seeing them in museums or on the sidewalks of Charleston,
will understand, she hopes, that the tradition goes way back yet
and well today.
For more information on Dale Rosengarten,
please call (843) 953-8028, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org