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Sea Island Indigo: Creating an American Indigo Culture
Donna Hardy has big plans–she’s in the midst of building a new North American indigo culture based on the same natural dye indigo plants that grew in the Southeastern United States Lowcountry area more than 250 years ago.
Donna has spent more than two years digging up the history of indigo in this area which produced exceptional amounts of indigo during the 18th century. This geographic and cultural region along the South Carolina and Georgia coastline include the Sea Islands, and has been described as a state of mind– a slow paced life with nature as its lead.
Charleston was the center of the indigo culture in the U.S. and nearly a million pounds of indigo was exported to England in 1775. Eliza Lucas, a determined 16-year-old, ran several plantations for her father and was instrumental in the growth of the indigo industry. This wonderful story from a young woman’s perspective is amazing, but she was not the first to grow indigo in the Charleston area. Indigo had been established in the Lowcountry long before it became the second highest cash crop in South Carolina. The history of indigo in the United States is deeply embedded in this region.
During her years of research Donna discovered the naturalized plant, Indigofera suffruticosa, that was grown during the indigo boom in the Charleston area. She set about growing 300 indigo plants plus some Sea Island cotton and Carolina Gold Rice on one-third acre of Jeff Allen’s Rebellion Farm, a place for sustainable agriculture and heirloom crops. Her dedication to organic production required long, hot days tending her plants. But she persevered and the indigo thriving on that plot provided the dyestuff for a successful workshop in 2014, a collaboration with Kathy Hattori of Botanical Colors in Seattle.
Donna is also working with the Clemson Coastal Research Center to cultivate the heritage seeds she discovered on Ossabaw Island. Her goal to grow crops of indigo, to provide supplies for her own work as well as others, has succeeded due to her labor of love, and she is ahead of her game plan. A bountiful crop of heritage indigo is springing forth from Donna Hardy’s commitment to understanding the past as a means to grow the future.
Recently returning to Athens, Georgia, near her beloved Georgia Mountains, she has set up a studio on five acres in order to teach more workshops and spread the beauty of blue throughout the country. Her instagram feed exudes the love Donna has dedicated to her dream of preserving the genetic line of Sea Island indigo and sharing her passion of natural dyeing with others. This dream also includes increasing the production of Sea Island indigo, getting the word out about her project, and traveling to a few of the places.