1985 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Lucreaty Clark was one of sixteen children born to a family in rural Jefferson County. Her grandparents had been slaves on the Rindell plantation, outside of Monticello. After emancipation, her parents remained as tenant farmers on the cotton plantation. In the early twentieth century, the area was still part of the system of plantations, small farms, and cotton production. In addition to many other rural life skills, Clark learned to make white oak baskets from her parents and in-laws—who in turn had learned from their parents. Long after the plantations were gone, she continued to fashion the baskets in the way she had learned from her family.
Making a basket is complex and time-consuming. The process of making oak splints starts with cutting down a tree, then removing limbs, peeling the bark, splitting the tree in quarters or eighths, and using a froe and mallet to split the wood into smaller sections. The basketmaker then splits the splints into the right thickness using a knife and hands, and scrapes them smooth. Some basketmakers estimate that it takes fifty hours to make a medium-sized basket.
Many years ago, she worried that, “I got a little grandson. I told him, he ought to try to learn this. Ain't found nobody that does these baskets, but me…. I said, well, it'll be gone when I'm gone.” Luckily, Clark’s grandson, Alphonso Jennings (b. 1962) mastered her art. Jennings learned basketmaking from his grandmother as a teenager, and then consolidated his skills through an apprenticeship with her in the 1983 Florida Folklife Apprenticeship Program. Since Clark passed, he has preserved her legacy by making baskets and sharing knowledge of this vanishing art with others through workshops, school programs, and public demonstrations.
Aside from her skills as an accomplished basket maker, Clark embraced a wide repertoire of traditional African American songs, games and folk knowledge essential to rural life. She was a remarkable representative of an era that seems very far away today.