Narrating the Lowcountry – Charleston to Savannah

In preparation for the upcoming TSA study tour, Textiles of the Lowcountry: Charleston and Savannah, Collecting, Preserving, and Narrating, I recently attended Sharon Cooper-Murray’s Gullah Rag Quilting Workshop at the Charleston Museum.

With a rich singing voice, and surefooted command of the language, Cooper- Murray used rhythmic storytelling and narration to take workshop participants on a journey to a previous era in the costal lowcountry where rural isolation supported the preservation of a distinct Gulllah Geechee culture.  Aka the Gullah Lady, Sharon, has set out on a mission to preserve this disappearing folk practice that she learned from elderly Gullah women on Wadmalaw and Johns Island in South Carolina.   A tradition of using carpenter nails to push rag strips through recycled Feed and grain sacks was once passed from generation to generation, and until recently, part of the Wadmalaw island community-quilting circle, which was where Sharon first encountered the practice 20 years ago.

At that time, she noted in her presentation, there were about 15 to 20 women collaborating on rag quilts, all in their 60’s and 70’s, but over the years these numbers have been decreasing.  In response, she has established the Community Rag Quilt Project in an effort to promote and expand the practice; Sharon’s vision is not only to preserve this tradition, but also to make it relevant to a contemporary audience, with a multi- directional plan of a wide spread community centered cottage industry along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor combined with a flurry of workshop activity that invite quilters from around the region to try their hand at the process.   At each workshop she invites participants to add a few strips to a community quilt, linking the labor of their hands to each other and to the tradition.

(image: Sharon Cooper-Murray’s Community Rag Quilting Initiative)

By Jessica Renee Smith