Clark was born in Jefferson County in 1904 and learned to make white oak baskets from her parents, who learned from their parents. Originally, these sturdy baskets were used to hold cotton and carry vegetables. The tradition of white oak basket making has been carried on by Lucreaty Clark's grandson, Alphonso Jennings.

In 1979 and 1980, Florida folklorist Peggy Bulger interviewed and photographed Lucreaty Clark as she demonstrated the process of making a white oak basket. Folklife Program staff compiled photographs from these interviews to create a slide-tape show called It'll Be Gone When I'm Gone; that slide-tape show is the source of the images on this webpage and forms part of series S1577, Florida Folklife Archive, Photographs and Slides of Folk Arts, Artisans, and Performers.

Lucreaty Clark carrying her ax in search of white oak to make baskets (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark carrying her ax in search of white oak to make baskets

Image number: FS79642a

Lucreaty Clark chopping down a white oak tree to use for basket making (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark chopping down a white oak tree to use for basket making

Image number: FS79650a

Lucreaty Clark holding up leaves of the white oak tree she will use to make baskets (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark holding up leaves of the white oak tree she will use to make baskets

Image number: FS79645a

Making the White Oak Basket

To make a basket, Clark would start by finding a white oak tree of a specific size and width. Once she selected and cut down a tree, Clark would split the white oak logs into thin strips, or "splits." White oak splits are naturally pliable and do not need to be soaked in water to make them softer, as with other woods. After trimming the splits with a knife, Clark would weave the basket from the bottom up. There were no formal plans to guide her, nor were any measurements taken during the process. The final step was finishing the rim.

Lucreaty Clark preparing strips of white oak for basket making (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark preparing strips of white oak for basket making

Image Number: FS79700a

Lucreaty Clark peeling strips of white oak to make baskets (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark peeling strips of white oak to make baskets

Image number: FS79686e

Lucreaty Clark preparing strip of white oak for making baskets (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark preparing a strip of white oak for making baskets

Image number: FS79705a

Lucreaty Clark hand weaving strips of white oak to make basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark hand weaving strips of white oak to make a basket

Image number: FS79737a

Lucreaty Clark making a white oak basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark making a white oak basket

Image number: FS79747a

Lucreaty Clark looking for another strip of white oak to continue making her basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark looking for another strip of white oak to continue making her basket

Image number: FS79782

Lucreaty Clark weaving her white oak basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark weaving her white oak basket

Image number: FS79786a

Lucreaty Clark preparing a strip of white oak for her basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark preparing a strip of white oak for her basket

Image number: FS79792a

Lucreaty Clark weaving a white oak basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark weaving a white oak basket

Image number: FS79801a

Close-up view of Lucreaty Clark making a white oak basket (not after 1979)

Close-up view of Lucreaty Clark making a white oak basket

Image number: FS79838a

Lucreaty Clark completing her white oak basket (not after 1979)

Lucreaty Clark completing her white oak basket

Image number: FS79846e

Close-up of Lucreaty Clark finishing her white oak basket (not after 1979)

Close-up of Lucreaty Clark finishing her white oak basket

Image number: FS79852a

The Interviews

Clark described white oak basketry in great detail in the interviews conducted by the Florida Folklife Program. She also discussed her life, talking about games she played as a child, food she ate growing up, her family, and her religious beliefs.

When the recordings were made, Lucreaty Clark was the last known living white oak basket maker in the state of Florida. During the interviews, she stated that the tradition would probably disappear once she died. But soon after the interviews, Clark's grandson Alphonso Jennings began to learn the specialized basketry. Shortly before Clark died in 1986, Jennings completed an apprenticeship program with his grandmother sponsored by the Florida Folklife Program. Before his death in 2007, Jennings gained a national reputation for making durable, finely crafted, functional baskets. Their work represented the essence of folklife: living traditions passed down from one generation to the next.

Sources

  1. Kristin Congdon and Tina Bucuvalas. Just Above the Water: Florida Folk Arts. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006.
  2. Robert Stone. "Lucreaty Clark and Alphonso Jennings: White Oak Baskets." In Florida Folklife: Traditional Arts in Contemporary Communities, edited by S. Stuempfle, 54. Miami: Historical Association of Southern Florida, 1998.
  3. Lucreaty Clark, interview by Peggy Bulger, 1980.