Candice Glover now holds the key to open the mysteries of St. Helena Island to the world.
In addition to a singing voice that has made her an "American Idol," Glover now possesses a peculiar key to the city that's like squinting through a keyhole into a secret garden.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling presented the key to Glover during her welcome-home concert Saturday on Bay Street. The sudden star's whirlwind, made-for-television trip from Hollywood to the Lowcountry came after 11.4 million people watched her make the Top 3 in Fox's "American Idol" singing competition on Thursday.
The key is made of a coiled sea grass basket, like those woven by African-Americans on St. Helena for 300 years, and features a painting of a river winding through the marsh.
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Keyersling has generic keys to the city, but "I don't like to give keys to the city because our heart's open to everybody and you don't need a key," he said.
But "American Idol" insisted, and the mayor didn't want to be generic. He tracked down artist Jery Taylor, the only basket weaver working on St. Helena. She's a Mount Pleasant native who lives in Walterboro and for 21 years has sold her wares on St. Helena. She is set up at Bill Green's Gullah Grub Restaurant, where she sews baskets modeled after "The St. Helena Basket" of days gone by, made primarily of bulrush, rather than the more widely used sweetgrass.
Penn Center on St. Helena -- where Glover also performed Saturday -- taught coiled basketry for half a century, when it was the Penn Normal Industrial and Agricultural School. That ended in 1950. Fear that the old craft will die is at least 100 years old. Taylor was introduced to the St. Helena style -- which she calls the "Beaufort Basket" -- by the late Jannie Cohen, considered the last of the basket sewers on Hilton Head Island.
Keyserling took Taylor an actual, four-inch skeleton key a week before the concert and said, "I need you to weave a key." Taylor said she prayed, read in the Bible that all things are possible, then worked day and night, delivering it on Wednesday.
Keyserling asked artist Terry Brennan of St. Helena to fill in the holes on the 39-inch-long grass key. "I wanted a scene from St. Helena," Brennan said. "Her proudest cry is that she is from St. Helena, and St. Helena is proud of her."
Sonny and Georgia Phillips of the Charles Street Gallery used their framing skills to make it sturdy. And the mayor, looking like ol' man river playing a banjo, had his funky key to the city with two hours to spare before show time.
Fox filmed Taylor at work on her baskets, along with other scenes from Glover's unusual hometown.
Taylor has toiled for years with a sewing bone and materials from the marsh to open eyes to St. Helena's unique baskets. She's astounded that Wednesday night's episode of "American Idol" could give the Sea Island art three seconds of fame.
"The thing about it is, God's timing is always on time," she said.
- Basketmakers weave a uniquely Lowcountry story, Sept. 14, 2010
- Lowcountry baskets woven into the fabric of our lives, Jan. 1, 2011