Swannanoa Valley Museum opens exhibit showcasing significance of river cane

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
River cane, an endangered plant with important cultural and ecological significance, is the subject of a new exhibit at the Swannanoa Valley Museum.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center opens "River Cane Renaissance" in April, an exhibit showcasing the cultural and ecological significance of river cane. 

The exhibit will open April 1 with a special presentation on the native grass followed by a demonstration of Cherokee river cane basket weaving. Both events are free.

"Historically, river cane was everywhere, as evidenced by the hundreds of place names across the United States with the word ‘cane’ in them, particularly in the Southeast,” Adam Griffith, program director of the Revitalization of Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources said in a press release.

Aiming to show the essential role of river cane in the daily life of native people, the exhibit will also highlight ongoing efforts to restore the habitats of this endangered plant. 

Along with Griffith, Pam Meister, director of the Mountain Heritage Center of Western Carolina University will present the opening talk. 

According to the museum, the two presenters will cover topics ranging from the ecology of river cane to historic Cherokee uses of the plant and how the "River Cane Renaissance" exhibit came to be. 

Following the presentation, Cherokee artisan Ramona Lossie will provide a demonstration of traditional river cane basket weaving. Lossie learned the skill of basket weaving from her mother and grandmother, making award-winning single and double-weave baskets using only natural materials she harvests herself. 

A woman weaves a traditional basket. This photo comes from the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History center's extensive collection.

European colonization caused significant degradation of canebrakes, the ecosystems formed by large clusters of river cane. Now considered critically endangered, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians actively works to restore river cane habitats. 

"River Cane Renaissance" will be on display at the museum April-June. Admission to the museum is free with a suggested donation of $5. The opening talk, held April 1 from 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m., and the demonstration, held 1-3 p.m., are free but the museum asks attendees to register online. 

Visit www.history.swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 828-669-9566 to learn more. 

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.