Marvin Grant has deep roots in the Pawley’s Island Gullah community. In 1991, after serving in the US Army, Grant moved to Pawley’s Island and lived with his aunt, Evelyn Knowles. A longtime hammock maker, she began teaching Grant the basics and soon thereafter he got a job at the Pawley’s Island Hammock Manufacturing Company.
He soon became one of the company’s most skilled hammock makers. In June 1993, he moved over to the Original Pawley’s Island Rope Hammock Shop and he still works there today. Established in 1938, this shop has been an icon for a Lowcountry tradition dating to the late 19th century.
Hammocks have a long and rich history. Most sources indicate hammocks originated in the West Indies and were then introduced to Central and South America in the 1200s. Early hammocks were woven from the bark of the hamack tree and later sisal fibers were used. Animal skins or cloth were also used by many cultures. Spanish explorers noted the use of the hammock by indigenous people throughout the Caribbean and soon adopted them for bedding on board their ships. They provided a practical alternative to mattresses. Thanks to the widespread nature of mariner operations in the 16th and 17th centuries, the use of hammocks spread relatively quickly throughout the world.
The use of the first rope hammock is attributed to Captain Joshua Ward in 1889. A South Carolina riverboat captain, Ward made a hammock out of cotton rope as an alternative to his grass-filled mattress. His refinements to the traditional hammock designs of his day have remained key features of the now famous Pawley’s Island hammock – spreader bars and a double-thatch weave that produces the lattice pattern.
The Pawley’s Island community has been the center of the hammock making industry since 1938, when the family of Joshua Ward opened the Hammock Shop. Since then, a long line of skilled hammock makers have learned the craft and passed on the skills necessary to weave hammocks. Grant has taken great pleasure in teaching other people how to make hammocks – adults and children alike. He has been featured by numerous media outlets – The New York Times, Southern Living, NBC News, and the Washington Post – for his recognized skill in the art form.
The walls of his shop are lined with hundreds of postcards and photographs of folks who have visited him over the years. He hopes to teach the art of hammock making to the next generation in order to ensure the strength and relevance of the tradition. Grant received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2012.