Down Bohicket Road
113 pages
English

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113 pages
English

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Description

Artist Mary Whyte's Down Bohicket Road includes two decades worth of watercolors—depicting a select group of Gullah women of Johns Island, South Carolina, and their stories. In 1991, following Whyte's recovery from a year of treatment for cancer, she and her husband moved to a small sea island near Charleston, seeking a new home where they could reinvent themselves far removed from the hectic pace of Philadelphia. In this remote corner of the South, Whyte first met Alfreda LaBoard and her devoted group of seniors who gathered weekly to make quilts, study the Bible, and socialize in a small rural church on Bohicket Road. Descendants of lowcountry slaves, these longtime residents of the island influenced Whyte's life and art in astonishing and unexpected ways.

Whyte soon began a series of watercolors depicting these women, honoring their lives and their dedication to family and faith. As her friendships with these women grew, their matriarch Alfreda LaBoard claimed Whyte as her "vanilla sister." Alfreda's World, a collection of Whyte's detailed watercolors and poignant recollections of the women at the senior center, was published a decade later, drawing attention and support from the community to the small church on Bohicket Road.

Down Bohicket Road continues the story of Whyte's relationship with these extraordinary women, following the passing of Alfreda, against the backdrop of the ongoing commercial development of Johns Island. For Whyte, the heart of this community remains in the simple homes clustered along Bohicket Road, in the island's winding tidal creeks, and in a small church where eighteen hardscrabble women gather in fellowship each week. In her book Whyte illustrates that both watercolors and friendships can be the unpredictable results of an abundance of blessings. As shared through touching words and vibrant paintings, Down Bohicket Road celebrates a unique way of coastal life and a remarkable friendship that transcends all barriers—even death itself—in praise of the unifying power of art.

All royalties from the sale of this book benefit the Hebron Saint Francis Senior Center on Johns Island.


Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 30 novembre 2012
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781611171853
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 2 Mo

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,1500€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Down Bohicket Road

Down Bohicket Road
An Artist’s Journey
Paintings and Sketches by
Mary Whyte
With Excerpts from Alfreda’s World Foreword by Angela Mack
© 2012 Mary Whyte
Published by the University of South Carolina Press
Columbia, South Carolina 29208
www.sc.edu/uscpress
21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:
Whyte, Mary.
Down Bohicket Road : an artist's journey : paintings and sketches by Mary Whyte ; foreword by Angela Mack.
pages cm
“With Excerpts from Alfreda’s World.” Includes index.
ISBN 978-1-61117-100-6 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-61117-101-3 (pbk : alk. paper)
1. Whyte, Mary Themes, motives. 2. Johns Island (S.C.) In art. I. Whyte, Mary. Works. Selections. 2012. II. Whyte, Mary. Alfreda's world. Selections. 2012. III. Title.
N6537.W457A4 2012
759.13 dc23
2012011631
Title page: Coop
ISBN 978-1-61117-185-3 (ebook)
For the women of the Hebron St. Francis Senior Center
Content
FOREWORD
Angela Mack
Introduction
The Paintings
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
INDEX OF PAINTINGS
Foreword
The first professional woman artist in America immigrated to Charles Towne colony from Ireland in 1708. Henrietta Johnston drew small portraits of her relatives and neighbors to augment the meager salary of her husband, who was an early rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Through these intimate, beautifully executed, now-rare pastels, we can gaze upon the likenesses she created and consider the character of these early settlers. Today Johnston’s work is zealously sought and highly prized by private collectors, and acquisitions committees at major art museums across the country consider her work essential to a strong American collection. While her compositions and medium are steeped in the traditions of seventeenth-century European art, her Charleston portraits transcend time and place with an immediacy and sincerity of execution that lock the images in our minds forever.
Therefore it seems appropriate that three hundred years later another intrepid woman artist, having moved to Charleston from the Midwest, should capture center stage as one of the preeminent portrait and figure painters in the United States. Mary Whyte’s recent career achievements have catapulted her into the ranks of such renowned artists as Andrew Wyeth and Stephen Scott Young, and like them she has claimed her place in art annals through her use of watercolor, a medium that is often described by scholars as quintessentially American.
Henrietta Johnston and her husband were looking for a fresh start when they chose to settle in Charleston. Whyte and her husband, the master guilder and frame designer Smith Coleman, were looking for the same thing and were drawn by the city’s history and preservation ethos. Charleston has been their home for more than two decades, and during that time the lowcountry region has unleashed a creative force in Whyte that has culminated in two highly acclaimed publications and traveling exhibitions, Alfreda’s World and Working South. Simultaneously Whyte has cast her own spell on the creative sensibilities of her adopted city through the sensitivity and warmth she brings to each of her subjects and her faultless technique, which stems from extensive preparation, study, and an unrelenting work ethic.
Mary Whyte’s routine includes working in her studio on Seabrook Island and at her gallery, located in Charleston’s historic center near the corner of Tradd and Church Streets. This is part of a creative heartbeat that has pulsed through the city since the 1920s and 1930s, when it experienced an artistic renaissance. The close proximity of rural and urban lifestyles inspired many artists from that period, and Whyte has perpetuated their rhythm and led the way for what many art enthusiasts in recent years have called Charleston’s second renaissance. Much of the activity that has generated this conversation occurs in this picturesque neighborhood where Whyte’s gallery once housed the studio and gallery of Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, an active preservationist and popular regional etcher.
Since moving to Charleston, Whyte has also become a voice for promoting other visual artists in the region. She is highly sought after as a teacher and is constantly sharing her knowledge and talent with others through private lessons and workshops. Her handbooks, Watercolor for the Serious Beginner and more recently Painting Portraits and Figures in Watercolor , reveal her passion for the medium and her willingness to encourage others. Teaching is a serious component of her career, and her desire to improve the quality of art teachers and recognize their value has led to the Mary Whyte Art Educator Award, initiated by Whyte and her husband in 2008 and administered now by the Gibbes Museum of Art. The cash award is given annually to a high school art teacher in South Carolina who demonstrates outstanding teaching skills, maintains his or her own professional development, and engenders community spirit through the visual arts. Mary Whyte embodies these qualities, and the award will ensure that future generations receive quality instruction.
This volume is a visual reminder of all that Mary Whyte has accomplished since first arriving in Charleston. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and all levels of society comprise the subjects she has painted. From the quilters at the Hebron St. Francis Senior Center on Johns Island to political leaders and professional luminaries, Whyte lovingly paints her figures as if they were all her close personal friends. Like that of her predecessor Henrietta Johnston, Whyte’s work is highly prized by private collectors and museums across the country. Both artists were looking for fresh starts when they moved to Charleston, and instead they found their artistic souls.
Angela Mack, Executive Director
Gibbes Museum of Art, Charleston, S.C.
Introduction
The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. ~ Aristotle
There is a twelve-mile road on Johns Island in South Carolina that makes its way toward the ocean, and, under a full moon, it turns the color of an oyster shell. The road passes beneath the shadows of giant oak limbs as thick as barrels and past swayback produce stands and small wooden churches. Beyond the trees the ribbon of a creek lies in cut lengths behind the rectangular shapes of trailer homes and sheds, before it turns west to join the river. Both the road and the creek are called Bohicket. This is the road my husband and I took so many winters ago when we came south to find a new beginning. It is the road that led me to the place I now call home.
Growing up in rural, middle-class Ohio in the fifties and sixties, I never could have imagined that my life would bring me to this place. Nor could I ever have predicted that a large part of my career would be focused on painting a community of African Americans.
Embracing other cultures wasn’t how I was raised. My father, the son of a Presbyterian minister, instilled in us at a young age that anyone who wasn’t white was lazy, ignorant, and not to be trusted. We weren’t allowed to have any association with someone whose skin color or background was different than ours. My mother shared the same opinion, but she was less vocal about it. At a private club in Cleveland, when the attendant wearing a starched uniform in the ladies lounge delicately handed us each a folded linen towel, my mother whispered to me to put a dime in the dish but not to touch her.
The only African American that was allowed on our twelve-acre property was B.J., a muscular, ebony-skinned man who came every fall and winter to clean and to put up or take down dozens of storm windows that kept the winter wind out of our rambling house. B.J. would come early on a Saturday morning, work mostly by himself, and bring his lunch in a brown paper bag. He would take home with him a few dollars and my outgrown dresses for his daughter. The bathroom he used while working for us was accessible by the concrete steps that led from the outside down to an unlit and cobwebbed basement. The crusted toilet and sink behind the swinging door in the basement was never used by our family.
As children, we are branded by the prejudices of our parents and keep them well into adulthood. Right before my husband and I moved to South Carolina, a friend asked me if I was going to paint the Gullah women of Charleston. I said no: I was absolutely certain I would be painting marsh scenes. Or still lifes. Or blond children in white dresses on the beach. Anything but African Americans. In my mid thirties, I had no idea that God was about to hand me a new road map and change the way I viewed everything.
Up until then, I had been doing paintings of the Amish in rural Ohio and Mennonites in Pennsylvania. My husband, Smitty, and I had a small gallery near Philadelphia, which was barely making ends meet. Then I was diagnosed with cancer. I spent the next year limp and exhausted, being shuttled back and forth to hospitals by my husband. The gallery suffered, largely because neither of us could be there, and after a while I don’t think either of us cared if the gallery survived. Several unfinished canvases faced against the wall in my studio, never to be finished. By then we had made a few trips to South Carolina and could feel its warmth pulling at us, but it seemed like a dream so far away. Sitting at the dining room table one wintery afternoon during a meeting with our gallery administrator, Smitty suggested we move.
“Where?” I asked, looking out the window at the house for sale across the street. Or did he mean we move the gallery? I pictured a building with an awning in Philadelphia, or perhaps in a leafy town on the Delaware River just north of the city. I looked back at him.
“To Charleston,” he said, his mouth curling into a smile.
I will be the last person on earth to be able to explain how God works. Several months later Smitty and I would be living on Seabrook Island. Right after we moved to the barrier island, I discovered a group of tenacious Gullah women who met weekly in a tiny wooden church on Bohicket Road. Most of them were descendants of slaves, and they gathered weekly to share stories, Bible lessons, quilt-making tips, and love. I was soon able to understand the Gullah words they spoke and sang, and I would fill sketchbook after sketchbook with wonderment. Their welcoming hearts and delicious bread pudding would keep me coming back on Wednesdays for the next two decades and change my life in extraordinary ways.
The old Hebron Church where I first met the women is, in itself, a small miracle. Built in 1865, it was constructed by newly freed slaves after a storm had blown a schooner carrying timber against a bank near the mouth of the Edisto River. Word of the shipwreck soon spread to the small black congregation that had been meeting in a structure made from pine trees and palmetto fronds. The strongest members of the “bush church” rowed out to the shipwreck and then oxcarted the gathered hardwood back across the island. The carpenters were former slaves who had honed their skills working on nearby plantations.
The old Hebron Church still stands, with simple proportions and sturdy construction. A copy of the large Presbyterian Church up the road, the Hebron structure resembles a white mailbox with a peaked roof. The building has weathered generations of storms, community development, and a dwindling congregation. The neglected building started to tilt toward the cemetery, as if leaning to pick up the thin headstones that had been scattered through the tall grass like unopened letters.
Back when we first came to Johns Island, there were no signs for Bohicket Road. It was simply the road locals took to Charleston and tourists took to the beach. Today the road starts unremarkably enough, at a junction marked by a traffic light, shopping center, and a couple of fast food restaurants. There is nothing unique about this landmark: the intersection could be duplicated almost anywhere in the United States. Nearby a new elementary school has replaced the building the old timers remember, with rows of new school buses in the parking lot. The older members of the Senior Center will tell you about walking barefoot down miles of dirt roads to get to school while carrying a cold sweet potato for lunch. A few of the lucky ones might have owned a pair of old shoes lined with cardboard.
Less than a mile away from the intersection is Angel Oak, which is said to be fourteen hundred years old, the oldest living tree east of the Mississippi River. Although the venerable live oak may hold the record for age, it still does not outshine the collective grandeur of the trees that stretch for miles along Bohicket Road. The largest trees, which sit close to the narrow road, have reflective markers to help drivers avoid them at night. Huge live oaks extend in perpendicular alleys up the dirt roads or gated driveways that lead off from Bohicket. A few of the trees provide deep shade for local women displaying and selling their handmade sweet-grass baskets. A number of the residents along the road occupy small trailer homes or tin-roofed shacks overgrown with weeds, with some old cars in the yards, separated by a couple of modest horse farms. With the pristine beaches at one end and the historic charm of Charleston in the other direction, most folks rarely pay notice to the thoroughfare in between. The area’s lack of celebrity may explain why the locals who settled along Bohicket Road have managed to conduct their lives largely unnoticed and out of the public eye for generations. This oversight may be a large contributing factor for keeping the Gullah language and lifestyle unchanged for as long as it has.
For me Bohicket Road and the people who live nearby are inseparable. Alfreda, Georgeanna, Tesha, and Miss Lewis recall milestones in their lifetimes based on the improvements made to the road outside their doors. Johns Island and its people have become the inspiration for much of my work, with Bohicket Road the connecting thread. For more than two decades every insight, emotion, celebration, and sorrow I have painted is tied somehow to this single road. Every day I have found a story that needs to be told through washes of colored paint.
Many of the ideas for my paintings start with a fleeting glimpse: a figure hanging laundry, a shadow of a tree, a snippet of a shrimp boat on the river in the distance. Seeing these unfinished stories is sometimes like hearing only the middle words of a conversation and having to imagine the beginning and the end. These tiny flashes of life are sometimes the catalyst for a major series of works. For me ideas are more plentiful than the hours to paint them, and I worry that I cannot get to all my thoughts before they are forgotten or are pushed aside by more pressing concerns. Some works take time to evolve. Like small seeds the paintings might not come to fruition until several years later, after there has been ample time for germination. To my mind watercolor is the only medium that matches the speed and the nebulousness of these stories as they unfold. Washes can be done quickly and loosely, making the unseen come to life. Watercolor is the perfect way to illustrate the people of Johns Island.
This book is a chronicle of my life’s journey with the women who live along Bohicket Road. While the words here may reveal some of their character, I hope that my paintings and sketches more closely capture the lilt of their voices, the heat of the kitchen, and their fierce love of God. I don’t think I have ever done one painting that was exactly what I saw, because then it wouldn’t be exactly what I felt. In my watercolors, I never hesitate to change the pattern of a dress, the shape of a chair, or the way the steam from a pot of gumbo gently encircles a woman’s face.

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