Two gifted ladies produce beautiful items to sell at annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival


Mrs. Mary Hicks displays her pine straw baskets at a recent Folk Roots Festival and Mrs. Odessa Rice at a recent festival surrounded by dolls for whom she crocheted dresses.


A big part of the annual Black Belt Folk Roots Festival is the many local and regional crafts people who bring their creations to sell to festival attendees.

Two of them take everyday materials and turn them into beautiful items which are also usable.

Mrs. Odessa Rice and Mrs. Mary Hicks are just two examples of folk who “take what they have to make what they need.”

Mrs. Rice says she has been producing baskets of pine straw and beautifully crocheted items since she was in high school. She was taught a lot by Mrs. Maple Means, but she also taught herself many skills.

She said she began making things to decorate her home and gradually expanded into selling to others. “I get enjoyment from people buying what I make,” said Mrs. Rice.

She has been a part of the Black Belt Folk Roots Festival for a number of years and says that this year she has some baskets, one or two  dolls and baby socks with several different decorations on them.

She is not only an artisian, but she is passing her skills on to a new generation. She has taught her skills at the 21st Century Youth Camp and other places where youth are anxious to learn of the crafts of their ancestors.

Mrs. Mary Hicks was also taught by Mrs. Maple Means. Her specialty is items made of pine straw – baskets of many sizes and shapes and hats.

She gets her pine straw from a lady on Highway 11 who has two trees which produce a large amount of Mrs. Hicks’ raw material.

“I began learning how to create things out of pine straw when I was in my 40’s,” said Mrs. Hicks. Then I taught my three daughters how to put thread in the middle and begin winding pine straw around it. You can keep winding as long as you have string sticking out.”

Once the item is finished, she shellacks it and it is ready to go.

Mrs. Hicks says she gets inspiration for what she does from looking at other baskets and from her own ideas.

She comes from a talented family. Her father, J. C. Williams, produced beautifully woven chair seats and baskets of all sizes out of white oak. For many years he was also a participant in the annual Festival.

Mrs. Hicks says she really enjoys coming to the Festival each year. “It makes the county seem better,” she says.

She also has passed on her knowledge to the younger generation. “I bet I’ve taught 300-400 young ladies what I do. I go to Tannehill Park and they bring in bus loads from the 2nd grade up to high school for me to teach. It gives me something to do and makes me feel good at the same times.”