Rainbow Row Journals

March 13th 2011 01:50 pm

This unique journal cover is crafted from paper made from kudzu vines harvested in upstate South Carolina. The collage on the cover is Nancy Basket’s unique interpretation of one of the houses on Rainbow Row in Charleston, South Carolina.

Rainbow Row takes its name from a series of colorful historic homes in Charleston, South Carolina. These houses, located north of Tradd and south of Elliot on East Bay Street, are referred to as Rainbow Row for the pastel colors used to paint them. Rainbow Row is a common tourist attraction and is one of the most photographed areas of Charleston.

After the Civil War, this area of Charleston devolved into near slum conditions. In the early 1900’s, Dorothy Porcher Legge purchased a section of these houses numbering 99 through 101 East Bay and began to renovate them. She chose to paint these houses pink based on a colonial Caribbean color scheme. Other owners and future owners followed suit, creating the “rainbow” of pastel colors present today. The coloring of the houses helped keep the houses cool inside as well as give the area its name.

Common myths concerning Charleston include variants on the reasons for the paint colors. According to some tales, the houses were painted in the various colors such that the intoxicated sailors coming in from port could remember which houses they were to bunk in. In other versions, the colors of the buildings date from their use as stores; the colors were used so that owners could tell illiterate shoppers which building to go to for certain goods.

In 1989, Nancy Basket began experimenting with the “notorious” kudzu vine after moving to the Carolinas to be close to the Cherokee Reservation. Nancy shares her Native American heritage by re-telling ancient legends orally and through her art. She says of her work,” I feel the old ones guiding my fingers and I am proud to be making something beautiful.” A contemporary basket maker and fiber artist, Nancy takes her name from the work she does and from her Cherokee grandmother, Margaret Basket. She is an artist-in-education in basketry, papermaking and storytelling in the Carolinas.

Native to the Orient, kudzu vine grows 12 inches daily. Asians use every part of the plant. Kudzu roots, weighing up to 400 pounds, are ground into powder and used as a thickener in cooking. Vines are processed and exported as grass-cloth wallpaper and are woven into expensive clothing, once used as gifts for emperors. Leaves have been used for hundreds of years in medicinal teas and a wide variety of foods. The purple flowers smell like grape bubble gum and are used in jelly-making. In the 1920’s, kudzu was imported to the southern U.S. as a ground cover and erosion control. Today, because of its prodigious, unchecked growth, it is considered a menace.

Nancy hopes to change folks’ opinions about kudzu from that of a maligned and laughed at weed into that of a new and inexhaustible source of tree-free paper.

The complete set of journals will soon be for sale at our Etsy Store, our Journal Store and always at Pixel Point in downtown Anderson, South Carolina.

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