Skip to Content

Arts at OneSouthCarolina, cont'd

Six Award Winning South Carolina Traditional Artists Featured At OneSouthCarolinaSM


OneSouthCarolina will integrate experiences that showcase South Carolina’s unique foodways culture and help make this an unforgettable weekend. South Carolina Traditions, curated by the South Carolina Arts Commission, will feature demonstrations and sales by award-winning traditional artists connected to South Carolina's rich cultural heritage. In addition to the artists spotlighted below, John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance at the University of Mississippi, prolific author, frequent contributor to the New York Times, Garden & Gun, and the former Gourmet and five-time James Beard Foundation award nominee, will speak to alumni about the diverse food cultures of the South. Each of the artists present at OneSouthCarolina has won prestigious awards from the South Carolina Arts Commission, including the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards and the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Awards. Traditional arts showcased include sweetgrass basket making, woodcarving, cast net weaving, and Catawba pottery making. Musical performances showcase the Piedmont blues tradition and the broad influences incorporated by the internationally acclaimed Marlena Smalls. 

Keith Brown, Catawba Cultural Preservation Project, Catawba pottery maker, Rock Hill. Catawba Indian Keith Brown is continuing the Catawba Indians' pottery tradition, which some consider the Catawba nation’s greatest legacy and believe to be South Carolina’s oldest continuing art form. The clay-working tradition of the Catawba Indian Nation, a simple, elegant style that is instantly recognizable, is being continued by a new generation of artisans, many of whom are children or grandchildren of pottery makers. Keith, born in Rock Hill in 1951, is a member of the Catawba Nation and grew up on the Catawba reservation, watching his grandmother and other tribal members make pottery and helping his grandmother prepare clay and burn her pottery. He also had the responsibility of digging and mixing clay. Keith first made pottery in 1976, while attending a pottery class. He served twenty years in the Army and helped to organize and served as president of the American Indian Association at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. He retired from the Army in 1993 and moved back to the reservation. Keith has worked as the Exhibits Coordinator for the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project since June 1995. He has done demonstrations at the Atlanta History Center, the McKissick Museum and the Catawba Cultural Center. He is a student at The South Carolina Institute of Community Scholars in the Traditional Arts and specializes in clay effigy pipes. He is the son of Ruby Ayers and William Brown, both Catawba.

Ike Carpenter, third generation woodcarver, furniture maker and carpenter, Trenton.  Ike Carpenter lives near Edgefield in Trenton, South Carolina. His grandfather was known throughout the Edgefield area as a carpenter and farmer and his father took up wood carving at the age of 15. Ike Carpenter is best known for making a special kind of traditional carving that is called “ball and chain” or “ball and cage.” These carvings are extremely difficult to make and are designed to show off a carver’s virtuosity. They are made entirely out of one piece of wood that has not been sawed, glued or pieced together. In addition to learning about carving from his family, Ike Carpenter apprenticed for eight years with John Mathis, a master cabinet maker who taught at the De la Howe School near McCormick. From Mr. Mathis, he learned all stages of traditional furniture-making, including how to shape felled trees into finely-crafted furniture using only primitive hand tools, such as an axe, adze, and shaving horse. Because of Mr. Mathis’ influence, he believes in sharing his talent and wisdom with others. In addition to sharing his woodworking knowledge and skills with children in local public schools, he has given presentations at Drayton Hall and at the McCormick Heritage Festival. Talking informally about the carving tradition in his family with customers who visit his vegetable stand on Highway 25, Ike Carpenter explains, “Wood is our life... it’s in the blood, If you give me a piece of wood and a sharp instrument, I’m going to cut on it.”

M. Jeannette Gaillard Lee, master sweetgrass basket maker, Mt. Pleasant.  As a youngster, Jeannette Lee learned the art of sweetgrass basket making from her mother and grandmother. The activity was an essential part of her childhood and often provided a significant portion of her family’s income. “When there were no jobs in the Mt. Pleasant area, my family would make baskets and take the ferry over to Charleston to sell them in the market,” she said. Sweetgrass basket making is a tradition specific to the South Carolina coast. It came to the state with enslaved West Africans from the “rice coast” (now Sierra Leone). Their knowledge of rice production, including basket-making techniques, was essential to the economic success of the colony. For many years, the baskets used in the processing of rice reflected this and remained constant in their utilitarian forms. In the 1930s, rice production methods changed, and tourism began to increase in the United States. To attract this new market, sweetgrass basket makers began transforming their craft into a purely decorative art. The variety of styles that they practiced is reflected in Lee’s work. “Imagination determines what I make. I might see a pot in a store and go back home, visualize the pot’s shape, and try to make a similar basket,” she said. The pride Lee takes in her work comes from learning the art in the family context. “I remember when we made baskets, and if we didn’t do it right, my mama would rip it up and say to do it the right way. She didn’t want anything that looked like the cat had just played with it,” she said. The quality and determination evident in Lee’s basket-making skills are reflected in her life’s work. She is coordinator of the Original Sweetgrass Market Place Coalition, has served on South Carolina’s Children’s Foster Care Review Board, and has been recognized for outstanding service to her community by many civic and religious organizations. The quest for creativity and perfection in sweetgrass basket making is a driving force for Lee. She is a tenacious and motivating advocate for the preservation and dissemination of the art that she learned as a child and continues to pursue and promote. “Sweetgrass baskets are a part of our heritage, a tradition that we will not let die,” she said.

Joseph “Cap’n  Crip” Legree, cast net weaver, St. Helena Island.  A living legacy in the St. Helena community, Joseph  Legree, Jr. has spent his life preserving the cultural values and traditions of his Gullah ancestors. A community partner with Penn Center for more than 20 years, Legree contributes to the oral history and folklife of the Gullah people by demonstrating the craft of cast net weaving as a presenter at the Center’s annual Heritage Days Celebration. For decades Legree has demonstrated the connection between Gullah culture in South Carolina and West African art forms to dozens of groups of all ages. Legree was born April 4, 1924, the second of Joseph Legree Sr. and Geneva Brown Legree’s 14 children. He attended Frogmore School until third grade, when he began working the fields to help support his parents and siblings. He learned how to crab from his father, and began working the river by the time he was seventeen. He learned the art of cast net making from a fellow St. Helena resident, Mr. Harry Owens, when they worked together on an oyster boat. Legree weaves nets for fishing and shrimping and bases the size of the net on the height of the caster. Admiration for Legree’s skill led local author Pierre McGowan to include him in two books about life on the barrier islands. Nearing 85, Legree has survived both his wives, Jannie Holmes Legree and Clara Byas Legree, and is the father of six living children. Legree has 23 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. While one of his nephews and one grandson have learned how to partially construct a net, none of his family members have fully cultivated Legree’s skill. He would like to ensure a family member is able to construct a cast net from start to finish. Fortunately, one of Legree’s grandsons has shown an interest in learning the art form. Today, Legree volunteers much of his time driving family and friends to appointments and other activities. He still spends time on the water, but now he does it for pleasure rather than necessity. Though he lives independently, he takes pride in being surrounded by family. He still finds joy in making cast nets and sharing his recipes at family gatherings.

Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers. Marlena Smalls founded the Hallelujah Singers in 1990 to preserve the Gullah culture of the South Carolina Sea Islands. The ensemble’s richly entertaining performances preserve and celebrate the heritage of the Gullah culture with language and traditions indelibly linked to West African heritage. Performances weaving music and narration present a dramatization of unique personages, rituals and ceremonial dimension which played an important part in shaping the Gullah culture and its influence on the broad musical traditions. The Hallelujah Singers travel extensively as Gullah ambassadors, teaching and entertaining in schools, auditoriums and festivals in their Fa Da Chillun Outreach Program. They have performed for the U.S. Congress, the South Carolina legislature, Chicago’s Ravinia festivals, the Kennedy Center, the Spoleto Festival and the G-8 Summit. The group has been designated a Local Legacy of South Carolina by the U.S. Library of Congress as part of the library’s Bicentennial Celebration. Other awards include the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards, the Alpha Kappa Community Service Award, the Rockford (Illinois) Mayor’s Award, and the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Awards (Governor’s award for the arts). They were named as the South Carolina Ambassadors of the year in 1998.

Marlena Smalls began singing at the age of 11 in Ohio and studied at Central State University. She is a sacred music vocalist and also sings gospel, contemporary, jazz and blues. Her programs for schools, reunions and meeting groups incorporate lecture, music and Gullah storytelling. Marlena founded Beaufort County’s (South Carolina) Gullah Festival in 1985, which today attracts more than 20,000 visitors. Inducted into the South Carolina Black Hall of Fame in 2004, she has performed for the Queen of England and many U.S. and international dignitaries. She has worked with film producer Joel Silver and Academy Award winners Tom Hanks, Demi Moore and Glenn Close. In addition to many productions for PBS, SCETV and GPTC, Marlena is known to international audiences as Bubba's mom in the Academy Award winning motion picture Forrest Gump.

Freddie Vanderford, Piedmont blues player, Buffalo. Growing up in Buffalo, South Carolina, Vanderford first learned to play the mouth harp, or harmonica, from his grandfather, who played “old mountain songs” on the instrument. Initially, Vanderford blended the country style of his grandfather with the sound of the Chicago blues. However, an encounter with the Piedmont blues of Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson would forever change Vanderford’s musical style. In the 1960s, Vanderford first heard Peg Leg Sam play the blues on the radio. When the Union County teenager discovered that the blues harpist and former medicine show performer lived nearby, he set out to meet him, hoping to learn something of his skill and style. The two eventually developed a close relationship, from which Vanderford learned a great deal about the Piedmont blues. Today, his music is one of the closest links to one of the early masters of a unique musical tradition. In a pattern common to any folk tradition, Vanderford combines his traditional blues roots with his own variations and new material. He entertains audiences with his renditions of the blues, playing solo or with fellow musicians such as “Little Pink” Anderson, Brandon Turner, Steve McGaha, and others. His discography includes Piedmont Blues, recorded with Brandon Turner under the name of the New Legacy Duo. His music is also featured on Feel the Presence: Traditional African American Music in South Carolina, an album produced through the McKissick Museum’s Folklife Resource Center, and in Stan Woodward’s film BBQ and Hoinecooking, a documentary on foodways in the state. Vanderford’s passion for the blues shines through in performances at venues from clubs and juke joints to the historic Hagood Mill. His enthusiasm for the blues is also apparent in his willingness to pass on the tradition. Radio appearances, guest lectures, participation in workshops, and serving as a mentor to aspiring musicians are some of the ways Vanderford ensures that the Piedmont blues will continue to thrive. To view an audio slideshow, click here.