Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson Portrait

Born in 1945 in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Mary Jackson is a sweetgrass basketweaver working in the tradition of her Gullah forebears. Jackson began making baskets under her grandmother’s tutelage at age 4, working alongside other members of her family to uphold a multi-generational tradition that extends back to their ancestral heritage in West Africa. Though Jackson learned this traditional style of basketry in her youth, she didn’t turn to it professionally until well into her adulthood. She moved to New York City to train as a secretary, and she worked in offices for nearly a decade until her son’s struggle with chronic asthma pulled her away from work. Back at home, Jackson began making and selling her baskets as an alternative source of income. She continued working with the sweetgrass, bulrush, pine needles, and palmetto she had learned to manipulate as a child, but began experimenting with contemporary forms distinct from the functional designs familiar within her community. After several years of successful sales at local markets, Jackson was invited to take part in the Smithsonian Craft Show in 1984. The show brought her broad exposure, and Jackson’s work has since become sought after by collectors and institutions around the world. She is represented within the permanent collections of the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, among many others. In 2008, she received a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for her work in basketry. Jackson is also a founding member of the Mount Pleasant Sweetgrass Basket Makers Association, established out of concern for dwindling access to natural grasses in the face of land development. Jackson now maintains a studio in Charleston, North Carolina, where she continues to make work using materials harvested every spring and summer by her husband Stoney. She has passed along the same skills she learned as a child to her daughter and granddaughter. Mary Jackson was elected a Fellow of the American Craft Council in 2018.