They are the “Eleven African American Artists,” and the Beaufort Art Association is proud to present their multi-media exhibit of the same name. The show opens October 30 through December 1. The opening reception will be held on Friday, November 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the BAA Gallery located at 1001 Bay Street in downtown Beaufort.
The “Eleven African American Artists” are: A.I. Davis, James Denmark, Diane Britton Dunham, Cassandra Gillens, Hank D. Herring, Claudette Humphrey, Marie Lewis, Lil Simpson, James (“The Saint”) St. Clair, Jery B. Taylor and Richard D. White. Each name signifies an individual artist of renown. As a group they are formidable and they have come together to present the many styles of art in Beaufort in a variety of media that is both as exciting as it is vibrant.
A.I. Davis is a self-taught wood carver who says his work “evokes the Art of the Tribe.” Born and reared in Harlem, he theorizes that as Continental African cultures and societies utilize the shaping of wood (among other media) as an art form, ritual and ancestral honor. Davis’ is art is meant as part of a continuum. Shaping wood for him is a way to celebration with the spirits of the diaspora, a way to return a life imagined only at its inception.
James Denmark was born into a family that boasts generations of artists. Years of formal study led to an M.F.A. from the Pratt Institute of Fine Arts in New York, where he says he “started doing things in class that were African oriented—I was pulling from the classic African motif.” His work transitioned into bright collages which are sought after by galleries and collectors alike. Experimentation and innovation are the hallmarks of his style which encompasses a wide range of media, including watercolor, sculpture, woodcut, metalwork, ceramic, fabric and high-tempered, hand-polished glass. Denmark has had over 60 one-man exhibits depicting images of Southern culture with basic themes of music, love and family.
Born and educated in Ohio, Diane Britton Dunham draws from countless memories of her family’s experience as inspiration. She creates works that celebrate the common traditions of the historical African American culture, particularly those of the Lowcountry of South Carolina and coastal parishes of Louisiana where she spent many years of her life as a child and as a young adult. Dunham captures the unique cultures of both the Gullah and Creole, describing the Creole as “a celebration of French, African, Spanish and Native American cultures.” This self-taught, award-winning artist of mixed media is known best for her brilliant colors and intricate human and landscape forms.
Cassandra M. Gillens’ earliest memories of drawing were with colored chalks in Roxbury, Massachusetts. This self-taught artist, born in Boston, grew up to become so connected with the Lowcountry’s comforting Southern culture that her paintings show that love with vivid colors of the seasons and what she calls “images of good old Southern living.” Her work has been exhibited across the nation, and this past February her work was featured in Hemispheres, the United Airlines’ in-flight magazine. In addition, her work sold out at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto Art Exhibit in Charleston.
Rose Hill, North Carolina native Hank D. Herring learned about art early by observing artistic family members at work: his grandfather whittling walking canes and his mother and grandmother sewing quilts. But it was his artist uncle who gave him a gift of art supplies and encouraged Herring to pursue his artistic development. Formal study and apprenticeship in high school as a machinist led to further work in many media during his military career with the United States Marine Corps. Herring says “working with ‘rescued materials’ (reclaimed or recycled materials) illustrates that beauty can be found in anything. Art should stir the soul and ignite the imagination.” Herring has helped coordinate this exhibit and will chair the BAA’s Festival of Trees entry this year.
Cat Island’s Claudette J. Humphrey attended colleges in Los Angeles and New Rochelle, New York where she obtained her MA in elementary education. While teaching first graders in New Rochelle, she studied in year-long workshops at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She says she “immersed herself in the New York arts culture” and invited artists—“from dance to drama, from painting to poetry—into her classroom and her life.” Though she didn’t start painting until she moved to Beaufort, she recognizes that “living in California, Hawaii, New York and now the Lowcountry has influenced the colors, themes and vistas that are reflected in my art.”
Marie D. Lewis has earned a number of degrees in a variety of fields, beginning with an Associates Degree in Apparel Design from the Fashion Institute of New York and ending with an M.A. in Human Resource Development from Webster University in St. Louis. In between she earned a B.S. degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Her studies eventually led Lewis to a variety of business accomplishments in Beaufort: she is the previous owner (with husband Ron) of McDonald’s; co-owner of Sea Island Furniture Mart; consultant for SteinMart; and Dean of Continuing Education at the Technical College of the Lowcountry from 1992-1999, to name but a few. Lewis says she “recently returned to her love of art and design, and with the encouragement of many artist friends, I began painting a year ago.”
Lil Simpson’s art can be found in a privately owned studio and private collections all over the United States. A resident of Beaufort, Simpson is a wife and mother of four and a self-taught artist. In 1994, under the influence of a Southern Georgia artist, she began her journey into art. Her talent encouraged her to enter her work, her first exhibit, in the Glynn Arts Gallery of Brunswick, Georgia along with world-renowned artist Alex Baptiste, local artist Ernest Butts, both of Savannah, and the late Ana Bel Lee of St. Simon's Island. Simpson’s themes, from the contemporary to historical South, captivates viewers. Her use of shape and color Simpson calls “instinctive,” adding, “It is from my Southern living experiences that I draw most of my inspiration for art.” Simpson has received numerous accolades and has been featured in galleries and exhibits throughout the Southeast, including countless festivals as well as religious and charitable events.
James E. St. Clair, (aka The Artist Saint) lives in Yemassee. His award-winning paintings depict the rich heritage and culture of the Lowcountry and the Sea Islands. Steeped in history, Saint says his visual stories “tell tales of work, humor and adventure.” He paints primarily with acrylics on many surfaces, such as canvas, paper, clayboard, masonite, wood and newspaper. His works hang in collections nationwide. The titles of some of his series showcase what he admits is “an unusual sense of humor. The ‘Misadventures of the Chickens,’ is my newest series of paintings of ‘almost human’ chickens.” New and developing works include “‘Geechee Folk’ (portraits of ordinary folk, some real and some imagined) and ‘Inner Worlds’ (surreal visions of our spiritual nature).” Saint participates in both the Gullah Festival, Beaufort and the Gullah Celebration, Hilton Head.
Jery B. Taylor’s grandmother taught her the art of basket-weaving when she was five years old. Born and raised in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Taylor is a descendant of the West Africans of Sierra Leone where her style of basket-weaving originates. Each family has a distinct style of construction and decoration. Of her style of coil baskets, Taylor says, "A lot of families start baskets with a knot. Our family, we never started it with a knot." Hers begin with a small bundle of sweet grass. The free ends of this bundle are folded together and wound around to begin a coil. In 1983. After studying Phlebotomy and Medical Administration at Rutledge College (working at Charleston Hospital) and then cosmetology—Taylor decided to pursue basket-making as a career. The intricate process results in an original sculpture, not only valuable but revelatory of her skill as both designer and technician. With proper care, her creations will last for generations. Taylor has recently added folk art paintings to her exhibitions. Her works have been displayed at the Smithsonian, the San Francisco Airport and the South Carolina Museum in Columbia as well as being featured on programs on SCETV and HGTV.
Artist and musician Richard D. White is a native of Beaufort who was exposed to art at an early age. Though influenced by his mother, who is a cross-stitcher and calligrapher, his multi-media work is self-taught. Music in his teens and his skill in playing drums, guitar and piano led to professional performances with some of South Carolina’s greatest jazz and blues musicians. White says, “Music plays a big part in … my art style.” In 2004, while recuperating from injuries he sustained while working as an 18-wheel truck driver, he began to paint. Painting led to woodcarving, and soon thereafter, to one-man and group exhibits that earned him a number of awards. Many of his carvings and paintings have been purchased for private and public collections nationwide. Of White’s innumerable achievements, in May, 2006 he was invited to Washington, D.C. for a Southern artist showcase at the Emma Mae Gallery.
The above-named eleven talented artists were happy to accept the Beaufort Art Association’s invitation centerpiece the BAA’s special November exhibit. They all agreed that the purpose of the exhibit would be to promote interest in local African- American Art and encourage participation in the many programs the BAA offers. Works by the 90 other members of the BAA will be exhibited as well. The opening reception on November 2 will offer the community the opportunity to meet the artists, discuss their works and read their complete biographies, of which only a fraction could be included here.
In addition, gifts created by BAA members for the Annual Holiday Boutique, ncluding ornaments, miniature paintings, sculpture, cards, jewelry, toys and more, will be presented in two themed categories: “beach” and “traditional.”
The BAA Gallery is open Monday to Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The BAA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. For further information call 843-379-2222.