The Testimony of Art: “We Get Along Here.”

Two events this month remind us of something vital about the history of the Lowcountry.  We get along here.  With each other.  With the environment.  Not always perfectly, but in a way we can celebrate and give thanks for.

On March 30 the Gullah Museum will dedicate an historic marker so that generations to come will know that the museum’s “Little Blue House” is on

Invitation to museum marker dedication, by Amiri Farris

land that was purchased by William Simmons, great-grandfather of Gullah Museum director, Louise Miller Cohen, after the Civil War. The house was built in 1930 for Mr. Simmons’ grandson, William “Duey” Simmons.

The invitation to the dedication ceremony was designed by Amiri Farris, a bright, young light in art.  Amiri carries on the style and many of the traditions of Gullah art, and he teaches at University of South Carolina Beaufort.  It is significant that although much of Amiri’s work might be described as Gullah, Amiri was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in West Palm Beach.  Style is not the only element that suggests Gullah tradition in his work.  Amiri’s love of the subjects and locale of the Lowcountry plays a part in it too.  His family roots are on St. Helena Island.

Beaufort Armory, by Amiri Farris

The power of Gullah art to inspire indeed carries on beyond generations and boundaries.  Another sign that Gullah art is alive today is that Amiri is also the designer of this year’s official RBC Heritage Golf Tournament poster, the winner of an annual juried
competition for that honor.

Quilts & Clothespins, by Amiri Farris

And on March 9 Amiri’s art opened as part of a new exhibit at Four Corners Gallery in Old Town Bluffton.  His work in this exhibit is clearly in the Gullah tradition and yet radiates an exuberance all its own.  This is not commemoration of Gullah art, but rather one of its strongest vital signs today.

Paired with Amiri in the Four Corners exhibit, “Lowcountry Life,” is long-time Hilton Head artist Doug Corkern.

No “sentimental journey,” Doug’s new work nevertheless seems intent on documenting the homes and sheds and chicken yards of the Lowcountry.  Loving, but unflinching in its honesty, Doug’s masterful pen-and-ink line renditions are warmed here with color.  The color seems to come from within the drawings rather than to be imparted by an outside light.  And not just places, but Lowcountry faces and animals get this discerning and loving eye in Doug’s “Little Surprises” series.

It is part of life’s poetry that Doug was also an architect responsible for many of the original Harbour Town homes in the early days of Hilton Head as an

Pritchardville Store, by Doug Corkern

island resort.  His success in designing peace between development and nature there, for The Sea Pines Company, made waves throughout the worlds of business and design.  The first ad I wrote on Madison Avenue in 1973 was about Sea Pines’ other development, in Puerto Rico, Palmas Del Mar, and the only word I could come up with to say how the buildings fit with the Caribbean shoreline was “blending.” Doug Corkern was one of the people responsible for designing that original harmony with nature here on Hilton Head Island.

The new wave of Gullah art and the old guard of “come-ya” artists that the Lowcountry drew to itself in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Quite a combination.  See it now under one roof at the Four Corners gallery at 1263 May River Road in Old Town Bluffton.  And honor the roots of the authentic Lowcountry on March 30 at the Gullah Museum, 187 Gumtree Road on Hilton Head Island.  Together they say a lot about how we get along here.