4th Annual Morven in May’s Line Up Includes U.S.’s Most Prominent Basket Maker

By Linda Arntzenius

Princeton is a place of discovery. Nowhere more so than during Morven in May. Focused on art and artistic creativity both indoors and outdoors, this year’s event will bring a number of extraordinary artists to Princeton for the first time, foremost among them basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow, Mary Jackson of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regarded as a national treasure by museums and private collectors, Mary Jackson, 70, is the nation’s most celebrated maker of sweetgrass baskets. Her work has been bought by Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Empress Michiko.

In addition to sweetgrass, she uses pine needles, palmetto, and bullrush to create baskets that combine traditional techniques and forms with her own distinctly contemporary and elegantly sculptural flair. This is basketry elevated to the level of fine art.

According to a recent article by Joyce Lovelace in American Craft magazine, Ms. Jackson has done much to preserve the strong, pliable sweetgrass of her native South Carolina. As founding president of the Mount Pleasant Sweetgrass Basket Makers Association, she worked to see that plants that would have been destroyed by development were saved and transplanted on preserved land.

Morven-in-May-Jackson

Ms. Jackson’s ancestors brought the tradition from West Africa some 300 years ago and handed it down through the generations in the Gullah community. Ms. Jackson was taught by her mother and grandmother. In 1984, she was invited to show her work at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C.

Her pièce de résistance is an enormous shallow basket, with a plume of raw grass flowing out of it, that has a diameter of 3.5 feet. It took three years to complete for a private client who has it hanging on a wall as a single piece of dramatic artwork. According to Ms. Lovelace, a photo of the basket is on the cover of the interior design book Simplicity by Nancy Braithwaite.

Other newcomers are the decorative porcelain sculptor, Katherine Houston of Boston (a short video of her work can be viewed at: http://katherinehouston.com/video/) and glass artist Martin Kremer from Pound Ridge, New York. One other Southern artist is Lynn Pollard from Atlanta, Georgia, whose work with indigo on handmade paper can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJTKckf5tsk.

“In the craft show world, Morven in May has really begun to make a name for itself among the top artists,” said Director of Development Barbara Webb. The museum’s largest event of the year, Morven in May raises over $100,000 in support for the exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs at National Historic Landmark that was formerly the official residence of the New Jersey governor.

This year, 125 fine craft artists from all corners of the Unites States applied. Only 35 were selected, but that number represents a substantial increase from last year’s 25 participants. The selections were made by Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward, art auctioneer David Rago, and Veronica Roberts, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

The beautifully crafted art objects will be displayed in gallery-style booths under a grand tent on the museum’s Great Lawn. Visitors will find many returning artists whose work they enjoyed last year in glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, furniture, jewelry, wood, and mixed media. Furniture designer Barry Newstat from Chicago, will be returning, as will textile artist Erin Wilson from Brooklyn.

Besides the exhibition and sale, festivities will include an heirloom plant sale with unique perennials and annuals ready to plant.

The event begins Friday evening, May 1, with a preview party catered by chef Max Hansen, author of the best-selling cookbook, Smoked Salmon, Delicious Innovative Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2003).

Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or at: www.morven.org.

Tickets, which may be purchased at the tent entrance for Saturday and Sunday, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free.

The 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden will take place at Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, this weekend from Friday through Sunday, May 1 to May 3. Hours are Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A full list of the 2015 Morven in May exhibitors and images of their work is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.

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