Helping communities across the state connect their heritage arts and traditions to local development, education, and active citizenship
Lumberton, Robeson County, NC
Gloria Lowery has always been an artist. She grew up in a sharecropping family that focused much of their free time on creative pursuits; her grandparents were both skilled painters. Though she did not grow up making the baskets which are now her expertise, art was all around her: “My family were people who made things––sewing, that kind of thing.”
Lowery first learned to make baskets from Clyde Jacobs, a friend with a basketmaking tradition in his family. “I love it,” she says, explaining how the craft immediately captured her imagination. “I just feel a special kinship to it.” To carry on that teaching tradition, she seeks out opportunities to learn new traditions and to teach them to others. Lowery is a Native American and a Lumbee, and has worked as a teacher for her entire professional career. Her love of education shows through when she talks about her artwork, and she has taught her pine-needle basket-making techniques to her own granddaughter as well.
Pine needle baskets are incredibly strong and incredibly lightweight. A good basket requires patience, pine needles, and tobacco twine—and an excellent teacher. Lowery gathers her own pine needles as she was taught by Jacobs. A good needle is “the long leaf pine needle.” Important are its “length and its strength.” The needles are bundled into groups of six or seven—about the radius of a drinking straw—and used to form the basket’s structure. Tobacco twine is used to fasten the basket together.
Lowery is very proud of her Lumbee heritage, and uses Lumbee colors and patterns in her work. She is also quite humble. She forms baskets “simply like you were molding clay,” and makes the art appear simple. Despite their beauty and functionality, she insists that “they are not perfect,” and she doesn’t try to make them so. She is excited to share the tradition and offers workshops and classes for any interested person. “It’s an act of love,” she says, and each basket means something unique to the artist and the user. “It’s just something within me. It’s not in my family, there’s nobody else there who does art…I tell people art is not what I do, it’s who I am.”