After 25 years, the Charles Street Gallery closes its doors.
For the first few years after our daughter was born, Jeff and I would have had no social life whatsoever – and I mean zero – had it not been for the Charles Street Gallery. There, in the backyard garden of that wonderful old house of treasures, magic happened on a regular basis. Every month or two, Georgia and Lyals “Sonny” Phillips, along with their daughter Tanja, hosted artist’s receptions, complete with delicious homemade food, wine, and live music – usually Phil Griffin or Stan Boyd – while the grandkids, Tanja’s boys, ran wild under the oaks, beneath the pink sunset, with a handful of other small children whose parents lived for those evenings. We were some of those parents.
In my memory, these backyard receptions are the stuff of myth, alive with the buzz of artists, musicians, writers, academics, and anybody else who loved art and ideas and interesting conversation. And, again, there were the children. Always, the beautiful children . . .
This went on for many years, and I remember thinking, at the time, that our kids would remember those parties forever – the lightly-supervised freedom, the sense of adventure, the chatter around the chiminea, the sunsets. They were in their own little world and we adults were in ours. Together, but separate. It was heaven.
Of course, Georgia and Sonny didn’t open the Charles Street Gallery to provide a bustling social life for creative types who couldn’t find a sitter. But I do believe cultivating an artistic community in Beaufort was always a big part of their vision.
And now, after 25 years, the Charles Street Gallery is closing its doors. It’s almost impossible to overstate what this establishment – this institution – has meant to our town.
My friend and fellow writer Teresa Bruce put it so well recently, saying, “Paris had Gertrude Stein. New York had Alfred Stieglitz. Beaufort had Lyals and Georgia Phillips. The Charles St. Gallery is a big reason so many artists and poets put down roots in Beaufort. They felt at home.“
Looking back through Lowcountry Weekly’s archives, it’s staggering to see the number of acclaimed local artists who’ve enjoyed representation – and receptions! – at the Charles Street Gallery over the years. Joan Templer, Cabell Heyward, Lynn Brown, Karol Thompson . . . just to scratch the surface.
While perusing those archives last week, I came upon an article we published almost ten years ago, when the gallery was celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. The piece was full of testimonials from Charles Street “regulars,” and rereading them made me a little weepy. I thought I’d share some of them so you could get weepy, too… or at least get a sense of what Beaufort is losing.
“Beaufort is lucky to have the Charles Street Gallery, which is set in a restored traditional house with a beautiful garden. Georgia and Sonny are more like art patrons. They are knowledgeable, kind, straightforward, and direct with no overt salesmanship or hype. The exhibition openings are important occasions in Beaufort, replete with live music, wonderful food, genuine warmth, and are typically gatherings for buyers, artists, and Beaufort’s artistic society.” — Joan Templer, artist
“They just nail it. They’ve got good energy. Walking up the stairs is exciting, the anticipation builds— who’s up there, what’s on the walls?”
— Rhonda Jordan, former owner of Tabby Fabric & Studio
“Sonny and Georgia are true assets to the community in terms of supporting community issues, schools, Hope Haven, choice. If you need them, they do their best. They are up to date for the goings on and ready to encourage art for community . . . I believe in the art and artists they represent. They always KNOW the artist, their education and commitment to their art, the mindset of the artist interests them and adds to the authenticity of the work itself.” — artist Sharon DeAlexandris
“I always feel welcome at The Charles Street Gallery. It seems like a second home.” — Warren Slesinger, poet
“Sonny and Georgia have redefined what it means to be a family business. They make all their visitors feel like family and have adopted many of us. Stop in to meet local artists, see amazing artwork, make new friends, listen to good music, and eat Georgia and Tanja’s amazing home cooking. They are part of what makes Beaufort a nice place to live.” — Samantha Campbell, scientist
“I bake poundcakes for Georgia whenever she commands, especially since Sonny grows some good peppers for my hot sauce. Their sense of humor is the main ingredient.” — Irby Rentz, baker
“The two of them, Georgia and Lyles (whom I seem more often to call “Sonny,” because Georgia does, and we know Georgia rules), of course, make the place. It’s the place, at their glorious receptions, where we’ve met almost every kindred spirit we’ve ever met in Beaufort. Great hearts, both of them; never to be taken for granted. I will always be grateful for their welcoming our periodic poetry readings in the garden— more than welcoming, they almost demand that we be there. Let me not forget to mention my love of hearing Sonny’s tales of Memphis and my serious attachment to Serbia (Georgia’s home country), despite and because of its turbulent history. These two people carry large gravitas, deeply instructive senses of place, along with great joy in living, which they always share: Georgia and Sonny are wonderfully contagious people. I love them both. Georgia, in my head, just told me to shut up already.” — Quitman Marshall, poet
I spoke with Georgia Phillips recently and asked her what the past 25 years have meant to her and Sonny.
“It’s been the most wonderful experience we could have possibly had,” she told me. “We got to meet so many people that we like so much. I’ll tell you something, Margaret. I’m not going to miss the work, but I’ll miss the people.”
Whenever I think of Georgia, I envision her bustling around the gallery, or behind the counter framing a painting, or putting out another tray of delicious homemade food, or corralling the kids in the garden. The image of her – or her gregarious, woodworking husband – in full retirement is almost impossible to conjure. So, I asked Georgia if that was actually the plan, or if, perhaps, they had some big post-gallery venture lined up.
“Margaret, I’m almost 80 years old,” she replied. “I’m going to sit in my chair in the living room and finish all the crocheting I started years ago.”
Fair enough, Georgia. You’ve earned it. You both have.
I’ll end this column with one more testimonial from that tribute piece we published ten years ago, before we all got older and the children grew up and the garden parties became fewer and farther between.
“I can’t imagine Beaufort without the Charles Street Gallery. The inspiration, the creativity, the friendship, the love. Georgia and Sonny generate this kind of warm, nourishing energy wherever they go. They can’t help it; they’re like the sun. I’m just so glad they came here.” – Margaret Evans, Lowcountry Weekly editor
The Charles Street Gallery will host a close-out sale of assembled frames and framing/matting materials Oct. 29-31. The gallery is located at 914 Charles Street, Beaufort. 843-521-9054.