McKissick Museum is a rewarding place to visit on the University of South Carolina's historic Horseshoe in Columbia.
You may see a jar made by an enslaved potter and poet named Dave or elaborate silver owned by Bernard Baruch, the "lone wolf of Wall Street" who advised presidents.
But the influence of the museum -- which houses university collections and tries to tell the story of Southern life -- reaches beyond the heart of campus. It stretches deep into the Lowcountry, where executive director Lynn Robertson for 33 years has found a cultural gold mine amid the pluff mud.
More importantly, the museum has documented what it has found here. It has studied, recorded, displayed and digitized many Lowcountry folk traditions that locals may take for granted.
McKissick has helped us to better appreciate the art of sweetgrass baskets, the historical significance of Penn Center on St. Helena Island, the Lowcountry's Jewish heritage, and our storytelling, food, quilts, music, boats, woodworking and metalsmithing.
We now can see on our laptops a video of hashmaster Willie Lee "Huddie" Williams of Varnville making the mysterious concoction served over white rice.
"These rich, people-oriented traditions are a wonderful antidote to the 'mall-ization' of America," Robertson told me recently as she packed her office for retirement.
One McKissick project "documented the Port Royal (Sound) area folklife, including maritime work traditions, sweetgrass basket makers, animal-story tellers, river baptisms, praise houses and the Penn Center Heritage Festival. A permanent outdoor exhibit developed from field notes, black and white photos, color slides, and audio tapes was installed at the waterfront park in Beaufort in 1988."
In the 1980s, a young field worker was turned loose in the Lowcountry to document the global story of coil basket-making. Dale Rosengarten ended up producing the definitive history of the craft in exhibits and books -- "Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the South Carolina Lowcountry" and "Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art."
Natives of the Pawleys Island area helped stitch together a wonderful video of South Carolina's quiet talent called "Quilts Like My Mama Did."
We owe Robertson a debt of gratitude for helping us see that not all beauty is found beneath the marquee lights of Broadway. Beauty also can be found in roadside stands and advertised on notes tacked to telephone poles.
During Robertson's tenure, the Lowcountry has been inundated by outsiders who, through no fault of their own, never had to make a shrimp net, slaughter a hog, or find entertainment in campground meetings.
Robertson told me there's a great deal of diversity in the people of South Carolina creating art close to home.
One group stands out.
"The best at any of the folk arts are the oldest," she said. "We really honor those senior people. I love that, because in our society we value the young and beautiful."
Looking back over the years, she said, "the most surprising thing has been the incredible resilience of people who practice folkways and the tenacity of these traditions."
The art of making sea-grass baskets has survived uninterrupted for 300 years. On paper, that shouldn't happen. How long has it been since anyone in the Lowcountry needed to make a coil basket to winnow rice?
But baskets -- or hash, or spirituals -- help a family pass wisdom from generation to generation. It's a way of sharing knowledge and insight.
Folk art is all about taking scraps and making do. It's about seeing something special in everyday life.
"But it's much richer than that because of the creativity and endurance of the makers," Robertson said.
"I can leave knowing that 20, 30, 50 years from now the art forms will still be here. It may look a little different or sound a little different, but it will be here, and I will have helped that happen."