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Home / Blog Posts / Destination: Sweetgrass Baskets – The traditions, culture and history – Nov. 21, 2020

Destination: Sweetgrass Baskets – The traditions, culture and history – Nov. 21, 2020

Sweetgrass Baskets
The culture, traditions and history

With Master Basket Maker
Yvonne Grovner


Sweetgrass baskets have become a favorite collector’s item and a top souvenir when visiting the Low Country along the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Their beautiful artistic designs and appreciation for the craft have made them popular with collectors and the subject of many books, basket weaving classes, and studies by historians. The baskets are genuinely fascinating. However, hundreds of years before their popularity as an art form, the baskets were considered agricultural and work tools to harvest and process crops on the Southern Plantations. One of the most used of the work baskets is a Fanner basket that was used on the rice plantation to winnow the rice chaff away after they had been removed using a mortar and pestle. A Fanner basket is one of the more historically significant work baskets and most requested  by collectors.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, enslaved Africans were brought over from the rice regions along the Gold Coast of West Africa to plant, harvest, and process rice. In the Low Country areas, rice became the money crop with many plantations along the coastal regions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida growing and harvesting rice, using enslaved labor. During this time, a tremendous amount of wealth was accumulated for the rice plantation owners.

Sweetgrass BasketsYvonne Grovner is a master basket maker living on Sapelo Island with her husband, Iregene. He is also a basket maker. She recently retired from her work on the island providing historical tours for the State of Georgia. 

Yvonne learned how to make baskets from Allen Green, a renowned master basket maker on the island. Before his passing, he taught Yvonne and several other residents on the island. Mr. Green has baskets in the Smithsonian Museum. Yvonne taught her husband, two children, and granddaughter to make baskets. Her belief in preserving this vital part of Geechee-Gullah culture is evident in the many classes and presentations she provides to help others learn about the tradition and become basket makers.

Sweetgrass baskets
Sawtooth Palmettos can be seen around the island.

Sapelo Island
 is one of the barrier islands located along the Georgia coast. The island has one of the oldest intact Geechee cultures in the United States. African American residents on the island are the defendants of the enslaved workers who lived and worked on the plantations during the Antebellum area. Today some residents are the 10th generation continuing to live on their ancestral land. Tourism is a significant part of the island’s economy, and visitors can purchase the handmade baskets at the local store named The Grab All.

On the island, you will find the materials used in Sweetgrass baskets growing around the wet areas. Yvonne and other Sapelo basket makers collect the materials and process the grasses themselves. This part of the basket making process makes them genuinely handmade from start to finish. In many other places where the baskets are made, the materials become limited, and crafters need to purchase the materials or find similar grasses to use instead of the sweetgrass. When visiting Sapelo Island, your tour guide can point out the grasses and Sawtooth Palmetto growing naturally along the road.

Contact Yvonne to have her make a basket, especially for you! Her email address is –, or call her at – 912-506-0944

Gather ’round and listen to the lively conversation with Annita and Yvonne. You’ll want to plan a visit to Sapelo Island and other destinations along the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

To learn more about the areas that are part of the corridor, visit their website: and to plan a visit check out the website site:

For a visit to Sapelo Island check out the website –

Take a seat as we travel to Sapelo Island and through the years of  Sweetgrass Baskets with Yvonne Grovner.

Click here to listen. Thanks for listening.

Photos of Yvonne and her baskets



Sweetgrass Baskets
Yvonne gives a presentation on the steps in making a  Sweetgrass Basket.


Sweetgrass baskets
Yvonne collects the sweetgrass and other materials used in making her baskets along the road on Sapelo Island, where it grows naturally.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Allen Green, Sapelo resident and master basket maker who taught Yvonne and others the craft of collecting materials and making baskets. One of Mr. Green’s baskets is located in the Smithsonian Museum. He was her husband’s uncle.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Skillful hands use simple tools. Yvonne shares how the start of the basket is the most challenging part to learn.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Yvonne uses other simple tools as she continues to coil the grass and bind it with the Saw Palmetto.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Here are the very skillful hands of master basket maker Yvonne Grovner.


Sweetgrass Baskets
A collection of Yvonne’s baskets. From left to right, the casserole, storage and small rice fanner shaped.


Sweetgrass Baskets
The various shapes, sizes and styles of baskets made by Yvonne are displayed here. There is also one with a lid which would be used for storage.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Iregene holds a very special basket he made for his granddaughter India. The basket was featured on the Gullah-Geechee float during the second Obama inaugural parade. It was shown as a basket from the Geechee area of Georgia.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Iregene Grovner, Yvonne’s husband, holds a rice fanner basket. These baskets were designed to winnow the rice after the rice’s outside chaff had been pounded off. The rice was placed in the Fanner basket, tossed in the air, with the rice chaff blowing away in the wind and the rice falling back into the Fanner basket. On Sapelo, several of the descendants of the enslaved workers have baskets dating over 100 years old.


Sweetgrass Baskets
A fanner basket made by Yvonne Grovner.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Shown here is a mortar and pestle from West Africa, which is very similar to the ones used on the Low Country rice plantation. Workers would use it to remove the rice’s outside chaff. Women were the ones who worked with rice. They would pound the rice which had been poured into the mortar, made of hardwood, using the wooden pestle. This pounding and grinding was hard work, which could also take considerable time to process a full harvest.


Sweetgrass baskets
The picture shows a historical snapshot of women on Sapelo Island using the mortar and pestle to break the outside covering from the rice and a woman using the Fanner basket tossing the rice in the air as rice chaffs blow in the wind in a process called winnowing the rice.


Sweetgrass baskets
There is a connection with the Low Country Sweetgrass baskets and rice with some people on Trinidad, a Caribbean island. During the war of 1812, enslaved workers were promised their freedom if they fought with the British army. Some of those freed from slavery on Cumberland Island, GA were taken to Trinidad. Their skills and knowledge of growing rice and making Sweetgrass Baskets came along with them. Pictured here is a Fanner basket with African red rice.


Sweetgrass Baskets
Yvonne shares her skills in one of the many presentations provided by Yvonne. Here she works with Martin Clunes, the producer of documentaries, one which features Sapelo Island.

Watch the Martin Clunes video featuring both the Gullah – Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor,  Sapelo Island, and Yvonne.
Here’s where you’ll find each:

Gullah – Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor (12:57)
Sapelo Island starting at (16:25)
Yvonne Grovner and Martin Clunes making baskets – (23:33)


Here’s a video of Yvonne where she is collecting materials and sharing her love of making baskets.

Sweetgrass baskets
Sapelo is has great beaches. Nanny Goat beach is very popular with visitors and residents.


Sweetgrass baskets
For your visit to the Island, the Sapelo Island Birdhouses offer a luxury urban stay in a natural setting.


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