University of South Carolina

McKissick exhibit to highlight African origins of American art

“Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art” will be on display at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum Feb. 13 until May 8, 2010.

Opening day will feature numerous events and activities including a talk on the African American presence in South Carolina by Peter Wood from Duke University, gallery tours by the curators and activities for children, and a viewing of the acclaimed new film, “Grass Roots: The Enduring Art of the Lowcountry Basket.”

Through the story of the beautiful coiled basket, “Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art” revisits the history of the southeastern U.S. and demonstrates the enduring contribution of African people and culture to American life. The exhibition features more than 200 objects, including baskets made in Africa and the American South, African sculptures and paintings from the Charleston Renaissance period. “Grass Roots” traces the history of the coiled basket on two continents and shows how a simple farm tool once used for processing rice has become a work of art and an important symbol of African-American identity.

“This is a major project for McKissick Museum,” said Lynn Robertson, executive director of the museum. “We first started documenting and collecting baskets 30 years ago. The research and field work we have supported enable us now to see them in a global context. I think if you asked most South Carolinians to name the symbols of our state, the things that best represent our geography and our culture, the sweetgrass basket would be near the top of that list.”

The show is co-curated by Dale Rosengarten from the College of Charleston and Enid Schildkrout of the Museum for African Art (MfAA) in New York City. It’s the result of 25 years of research and a collaboration with the MfAA, McKissick Museum, the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association of Mt. Pleasant. Thirty of the exhibition’s South Carolina baskets are from the University of South Carolina’s collections.

Workshops, lectures and other programs will take place in February, March, and April. For a complete listing of events and programs, visit the museum’s Web site at, or call the Museum at 803-777-7251.

The “Grass Roots” exhibition was made possible by support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and the Met Life Foundation. Additional funding for the accompanying film was provided by the Henry and Sylvia Yaschik Foundation, the South Carolina Humanities Council, the South Carolina Arts Commission and the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor.

McKissick Museum is located on the historic University Horseshoe in downtown Columbia. It is open Monday through Saturday and is free of charge and fully accessible to handicapped visitors. Metered visitor parking is available in the Pendleton Street garage next to the McKissick building.

For more information on “Grass Roots,” or any other Museum exhibitions, contact Ja-Nae Epps at the Museum at or 803-777-2876.

"Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art"

  • What: Exhibit of more than 200 items made in Africa and the U.S., with emphasis on the iconic coiled basket
  • When: Feb. 13 - May 8, 2010
  • Where: McKissick Museum

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 12/14/09 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 12/14/09 @ 12:16 PM | Permalink