Corey Alston is a generational Gullah artist and expert who shares his culture and history through presentations and the incredible works of artistry he creates through his sweetgrass basket weaving. But he’s also a genuinely wonderful person whose smile and energy welcomes anyone and everyone who stops by his spot outside the Charleston City Market.
If you have the pleasure of catching Corey at the market’s entrance on Meeting Street, chances are he will say hello and ask you about your day. His hospitality will draw you in, and his craftsmanship will blow you away. It was a joy to spend some time with him this particular day in Charleston as he gave me the history of the palmetto roses that he sells alongside his stunning sweetgrass baskets.
It must be said, the most important distinction Corey shared with me is that a palmetto rose is not sweetgrass basket weaving. Sweetgrass basket weaving is a sacred art shared only amongst the Gullah people and their families. The palmetto rose was originally a love token often shared with loved ones going off to war. Corey is a certified instructor for the palmetto rose, and graciously offered to show me how to make one as well as tell a bit of its story.
To experience the Gullah Geechee culture while you’re in Charleston, here are a few suggestions.
Take a Gullah Tour
Explore the language and culture that still thrive today in and around the Holy City on a Gullah Tour with Charleston native Alphonso Brown. This driving tour takes visitors by catfish row, Denmark Vesey’s home, the Charleston City Market and through many more historical sites, all narrated by Brown’s distinctive storytelling that incorporates the Gullah language.
Visit the Charleston City Market
The Charleston City Market is in the very heart of the city and is one of the nation’s oldest public markets. It’s open every day of the year other than Christmas and is full of vibrant entrepreneurs and craftspeople offering everything from souvenirs and collectibles to mouthwatering pralines, and of course many talented sweetgrass basket weavers. The next time you’re in Charleston, stop by and say hello to Corey and purchase a rose or, even better, a sweetgrass basket to take home with you.
Taste the Local Fare
Charleston is a city that has long been famous for its exceptional dining, but many of the city’s most popular plates have been influenced by the Gullah culture. There are still restaurants in the city that stay true to their traditions by serving up dishes that are the same—and as delicious—today as they’ve always been. Find some fare (plus a few outside Charleston spots) here.