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Jason Rapp

Race in America: How art, and a St. Helena champion, open world’s eyes to S.C.’s Gullah Culture

An interview with Mary Inabinett Mack

Mary Inabinett Mack is a newly-minted recipient of the Governor's Award for the Arts and a legend in her coastal community of St. Helena Island.

Late last week, she was the subject of a story chronicling her community impact through the arts (subscription may be required to read) by David Lauderdale of the Hilton Head Island Packet. Mack was, until recently, owner of Red Piano Too Art Gallery. Her influence in Lowcountry art, in particular Gullah-centric art, is what helped her to the state's highest award for the arts. From the story:

She would get a nursing degree in New York City, raise a family there, and move back home for good in 1977. She was deputy director of the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services by day, and an art framer by night.

In New York, Mack’s husband took her to an outdoor art display in Greenwich Village, and her walls were never again bare.

“Art fulfills a need,” she said. “It’s like a passion. It lifts my spirit.”

As a student at Penn, Mack sat next to Sam Doyle Jr. They called him “Chubby.”The teacher asked them to bring in something from the community to reflect their lives. Chubby brought one of his daddy’s paintings.We can look back now and see how it changed the course of history.

Traveling Gullah Geechee art exhibit to debut in Hampton

The Hampton County Arts Council announced that the Stanley Arts Building will be the first venue to exhibit the private art collection of Gullah native Victoria A. Smalls. A formal gala will mark the opening of this prestigious exhibit, which will then run through the month of February. The public is invited to come enjoy art featuring notable and emerging artists, entertainment, silent auction and authentic Gullah cuisine at the 7 p.m. Grand Opening Gala on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019 at the Stanley Arts Building in Hampton. Read more about the art collection from the The Charleston Chronicle here. Smalls is connected to the S.C. Arts Commission through its program the Art of Community: Rural SC, which walks residents of rural communities through reimagining their communities through an arts and culture lens and use those to address long-standing problems. In the process, fresh leaders are identified as new voices bring their own energies to the table and foster greater community involvement.  

Ranky Tanky gets Grammy Award nomination

#SCartists' album up for major award

This has been making the rounds since the announcement on Wednesday, but The Hub would be remiss not to mention the major news for South Carolina's own Ranky Tanky. The folk band's latest album Good Time was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "best regional roots music album" category. According to a release from the College of Charleston, which boast three of the band's five members as alumni, the band's second album debuted in July 2019 at No. 2 on Billboard’s Jazz Chart. The band’s self-titled initial release, which came out in 2017, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Jazz and Contemporary Jazz charts in January 2018.

Started by alumnus Clay Ross ’98, Ranky Tanky, which is a Gullah term loosely translated as “work it” or “get funky,” takes a modern approach to the traditional sounds of Gullah music. Rooted in the cultural traditions passed down from West African slaves in the sea islands of South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina, Gullah culture encompasses a rich African-American heritage expressed through arts, crafts, cuisine and the creole influenced language of Gullah.

Ranky Tanky features a quintet of musicians including Ross on vocals and guitar, Quentin Baxter ’98 on drums, Kevin Hamilton ’95 on bass, Charlton Singleton on trumpet and vocals, and Quiana Parler on vocals. Ross, Baxter and Hamilton all majored in music at the College. Baxter also previously worked as adjunct faculty at CofC, teaching jazz percussion.

Congratulations to Ranky Tanky on this accomplishment.

S.C. Arts Awards: Voices of Gullah Singers

2019 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is taking 15 days to focus on this year's recipients: nine receiving the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Awards for the Arts and five receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at UofSC. In between the two groups, we'll run a special feature on S.C. Arts Awards sponsor Colonial Life.

The Voices of Gullah Singers

Gullah Singing The Voices of Gullah Singers—Gracie Gadson and Rosa and Joseph Murray—have performed as an ensemble for five years. Each of these singers has a long and distinguished performing career.
  • Gracie “Minnie” Gadson (right) first learned Gullah songs from her grandmother Queen Singleton, who was a member of the Hopes and John Fripp Praise Houses on St. Helena Island. These praise houses were maintained by Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Gracie has been a member since 1968. In the 1970s and 1980s, Gadson sang with local groups the Soul Survivors and the Praise House Shouters. Her early exposure to the old spirituals and experience singing in performing groups has resulted in a large repertoire of songs, including the shouting song “Adam in the Garden Pickun’ Up Leaves” and the mournful song “Remember Me, Lord,” which date back to the mid-19th century.
  • Rosa Mae Chisolm Murray (center) is one of the few living islanders who attended the famed Penn School. Murray gained early exposure to Gullah songs as a member of the Mary Jenkins Praise House, which still holds Sunday evening services on the island. She later joined the group Gospel Four and the Adam’s Street Gospel Singers in the 1980s. These groups sang gospel songs but also performed reenactments of the slave songs first recorded on St. Helena Island. Murray continues to sing songs such as “Till We Meet Again” and the haunting “Lord Do Something for Me” at festivals on the island. Murray first joined Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1952 and continues to serve as president of the Senior and Adult Choir, thus ensuring the survival of the Gullah spiritual tradition.
  • Joseph Murray’s (left) first experiences with Gullah songs came as he watched his mother Helen Murray dance the ring shout at the praise house in Big Estate, South Carolina. He later sang for many decades with choirs in Huspah Baptist Church in Beaufort. Murray currently serves as a deacon in Ebenezer Baptist Church, one of the few churches on St. Helena Island where the congregation still sings the old Gullah songs. Visitors to Penn Center’s annual Heritage Days Festival are often directed to Ebenezer during the prayer meeting services to hear the old slave songs. Murray’s extensive knowledge of Gullah songs and language has been a critical part of maintaining the tradition within the church.
As the Voices of Gullah Singers Gadson and the Murrays have performed at many events including Heritage Days, The Original Gullah Festival, and local praise house services. Voices of Gullah Singers also features 2018 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipient Deacon James Garfield Smalls. The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina has presented the trio to seven schools in Beaufort and Jasper Counties as part of their program, Reach: A Gullah Musical Journey. The singers truly enjoy singing for students and teaching the next generation their rich legacy of Gullah-Geechee spirituals.
South Carolina Arts Awards Day is Wednesday, May 1, 2019. The festivities begin at 10 a.m. with a reception that leads up to the awards ceremony at the UofSC Alumni Center (900 Senate St., Columbia). The event is free and open to the public. Following the ceremony, the South Carolina Arts Foundation honors the recipients and the arts community at the S.C. Arts Awards Luncheon and Art Sale. Tickets are $50. Please go here for more information and reservations.

Meet the Recipients

Use these links to read the long-form bios of the other 2019 South Carolina Arts Awards recipients.

Mary Jackson honored by American Craft Council

Mary Jackson is among the foremost of #SCartists, and late last week in Minneapolis the American Craft Council added to her impressive resume by inducting her to its College of Fellows – placing her firmly at the top of her field. [caption id="attachment_16665" align="alignright" width="230"]Mary Jackson, Two Lips Mary Jackson, Two Lips[/caption] Candidates for this prestigious honor are nominated and elected by their peers. To be eligible, individuals must demonstrate extraordinary ability and must have worked for 25 years or more in the discipline or career in which they are recognized. The Charleston-based basketmaker uses sweetgrass in the West African (and later, Gullah) tradition for her art, which had already garnered her exclusive recognition. In 2008 she received a $500,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," and in 2011 the S.C. Arts Commission presented her with the Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award for the Arts for Lifetime Achievement. In 2016, the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston named a gallery for her. Jackson began making baskets under her grandmother’s tutelage at age 4, working alongside other members of her family to uphold a multi-generational tradition that extends back to their ancestral heritage in West Africa. “The results of a basket are the thing that keeps you coming back again,” she said. “You’ve created something so beautiful, then the whole world loves what you’re doing … that’s the inspiration.” Read more here and here from American Craft Council, whose work contributed to this post.

SCAC Fellow’s new book out Sept. 25

Charleston writer F. Rutledge Hammes, the S.C. Arts Commission's current fellowship recipient for prose, is set to release his debut novel, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, on Sept. 25. The book has received glowing praise from writers like New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank who writes, “F. Rutledge Hammes is that rare new voice you run across once or maybe twice in a lifetime. His spectacular debut novel, A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, soars! It is a coming of age cautionary tale about power. It’s a mystery and a love story wrapped up in humidity and pluff mud and it is as fascinating as it is addicting.” Set for release by Atlanta-based SFK Press, Hammes’ debut novel tells the story of the Walpole family who fled their sordid past and escaped to one of the nearly 2,000 uninhabited sea islands off the South Carolina coast. The novel opens with the two Walpole boys taking their little sister out on their john boat for the first time to pirate the waterways for beer and loose change. In the process, their little sister goes overboard and appears to have drowned, until two men with gigantic wings swoop down and carry her body away into the sky. The news of her disappearance hits the family particularly hard, and the mother goes so far as to fashion herself wings and tries to fly. The Walpole boys set off in search of their little sister and, in the process, discover the truth behind the centuries-old Gullah tale of the Flying Men as well as numerous other mysteries native to the South Carolina sea islands. A book release party will be held at Blue Bicycle Books (420 King St., Charleston) on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 from 5-7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Sue Monk Kidd, bestselling author of The Secret Life of Bees, writes, “A Curious Matter of Men with Wings is where magic comes to life in a bold story that celebrates the Gullah world of the South Carolina sea islands. With lyrical prose, the novel takes us into a hidden realm where life is still enchanted and storytelling abounds. In these pages, the transfixing Walpole family grapples with loss, the madness of grief, and ultimately healing, while surrounded by a community whose only salvation lies in the ties that bind them.”

"...It’s a mystery and a love story wrapped up in humidity and pluff mud, and it is as fascinating as it is addicting.” - Dorothea Benton Frank, bestselling author

Hammes was born in South Carolina's Lowcountry, where he fell in love with the waterways, the people, and the folklore that inhabit the sea islands. His whole life, he has been writing about the Charleston area and sea island culture and, for the past decade, he has been teaching the young writers who will keep our lush storytelling tradition alive. Having grown up the oldest in a family of ten, stories of family come naturally to him. His grandparents moved out to the sea islands early in their marriage and made friends in the Gullah community, and he grew up enamored by all the stories and folklore his grandmother told him as a child. Hammes says, “I have long believed that magic is at the heart of Charleston, and so magic must be at the heart of the Charleston novel.” Through A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, Hammes hopes readers will see the redemption that comes to people who keep their promises to one another and stand together regardless of ethnicity, culture and class. Hammes earned his MFA in fiction from Old Dominion University, has had numerous short stories, essays and poems published in various journals and magazines around the country, and is a contributing writer in several books. He is also the 2019 South Carolina Arts Commission Prose Fellow and is presently Director of the Creative Writing program at Charleston County School of the Arts, the most awarded middle- and high-school writing program in the nation. For more information on A Curious Matter of Men with Wings, visit frutledgehammes.com.

Tuning Up: Creative Placemaking, Gullah Geechee in Philadelphia, more

Good morning!  "Tuning Up" is a morning post series where The Hub delivers quick-hit arts stories of interest to readers. Sometimes there will be one story, sometimes there will be several. Get in tune now, and have a masterpiece of a day. And now, in no particular order...

  • You'll be hearing more from us about this, but we have to start somewhere. South Arts is presenting the "Beyond Big Cities" Southern Creative Placemaking Conference in Chattanooga, Tenn. next month. This is the place to be for civic/arts leaders interesting in leveraging the creative assets in rural communities and small towns to attract and retain residents, creatives and businesses, and bring visitors to experience the unique nature of your place.
  • The Gullah Geechee remain in the spotlight, this time as Aunt Pearlie Sue and the Gullah Kinfolk take the story of Gullah Geechees to the City of Brotherly Love for a free performance at Villanova University. The performance will recognize the important link between Philadelphia and the Sea Islands of S.C. during slavery and Reconstruction. Group leader Anita Singleton-Prather is a Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award winner and an acclaimed musician, storyteller, and actress.
  • Verner Award recipients Jonathan Green (2010) and William Starrett (2002) rekindle a collaboration that took Green's paintings (right) Off the Wall and Onto the Stage with Columbia City Ballet when they reprise the critically acclaimed ballet at Township Auditorium in Columbia this Friday and in Charleston Saturday, March 3.
  • And finally, a hearty congratulations to Arts Commission Chairman Henry Horowitz for receiving the Buck Mikel Leadership Award from the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.

Atlantic Beach’s Black Pearl Cultural Arts Festival call for arts and crafts

blackpearlogoArts and craft vendors are invited to participate in the Black Pearl Cultural Arts Festival taking place Nov. 25-27 in the town of Atlantic Beach. Priority is given to South Carolina arts and crafters who make their own wares, followed by out-of-state arts and crafters. Festival hours are Friday, 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; and Sunday, noon - 7 p.m. Application and fee of $50 per booth are due by Nov. 1. Find complete submission rules and the application online. About Atlantic Beach Nicknamed "The Black Pearl," Atlantic Beach was formed by predominantly Gullah Geechee people, descendants of slaves who lived for 300 years on the Sea Islands from Wilmington, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla. In the early 1930s, defying Jim Crow laws in the segregated South, debunking black stereotypes, and broadening the enterprises of the Gullah Geechee, black men and women opened hotels, restaurants, night clubs, and novelty shops in Atlantic Beach. Nestled between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, Atlantic Beach remains the only Black-owned beach in the nation.

S.C. Arts Commission building new relationships through Gullah Geechee partnership

[caption id="attachment_18446" align="alignright" width="317"]Gullah Geechee mtg Conway May 2013 Launching the partnership in May 2013[/caption] In May 2013, the South Carolina Arts Commission entered a partnership with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission to help increase awareness of and connect to the state's Gullah Geechee artists and communities. This partnership between a state arts agency and the Corridor Commission is the first of its kind in the four-state corridor, which includes North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The Arts Commission's involvement as a partner is also providing a template for recognizing the culture regionally and nationally. (Download the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor brochure - PDF) [caption id="attachment_18480" align="alignleft" width="200"]Layla Love Young artist Layla Love at a Gullah Geechee community arts meeting at the Penn Center.[/caption] Through this partnership, the Arts Commission has created an initiative to recognize the distinct artistic contributions of the Gullah Geechee  -- descendants of formerly enslaved people -- by identifying and supporting artists with professional development, networking opportunities and grants. The Arts Commission's work follows the Corridor Commission's management plan in recognizing the Gullah Geechee people's contributions to music, arts, handicrafts, foodways, spirituality, language, education and economic development. The initiative includes fostering the preservation of the Gullah Geechee traditions while recognizing the culture as the setting for contemporary Gullah Geechee artists and creatives -- a way of honoring both the historical and living expressions that have shaped the history of our state, region and country. (Related: S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May explains the importance of connecting to Gullah Geechee culture in this short video developed with SC-ETV's Palmetto Scene.) This initiative is part of the Arts Commission’s long-standing commitment to strategically design and build partnerships with other organizations and commissions in order to develop arts participation and community engagement. (Related: the last in a series of marketing workshops for Gullah Geechee artists is scheduled for Feb. 24 in Okatie, S.C. The workshop is free, but registration is required.) Images above article: Left to right: Cast net maker and Folk Heritage Award recipient Joseph Legree of St. Helena Island; Sweetgrass Basket Festival in Beaufort; Michael Smalls and Dino Badger of Bluffton were among Gullah Geechee artists featured at OneSouthCarolina 2014.

Gullah Geechee artists invited to free workshop in Beaufort County

The South Carolina Arts Commission will present the last in a series of three professional development workshops, Promoting your Gullah Geechee Art Form, from 6 – 9 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center (formerly the Marina at Lemon Island) at 310 N. Okatie Highway, Okatie, S.C. The workshop is offered free of charge. Space is limited to the first 30 registrants. To register, artists should call (803) 734-8693 or e-mail sduplessis@arts.sc.gov  and provide name, art form, phone number and email address. Artists will learn how to create basic support materials necessary for promotion of their art work. “It is especially designed for Gullah Geechee residents who practice or represent one or more of the cultural expressions outlined in the Gullah Geechee Corridor’s management plan,” said Ken May, South Carolina Arts Commission executive director. Those areas are music, arts, handicrafts, foodways, spirituality, language, education and economic development. “We are pleased to present this workshop in a location between Beaufort and Hilton Head and in partnership with the new maritime center," May said. "They are a new community resource and exhibit venue for artists, and their recent programming has had a strong Gullah Geechee theme. It’s a good fit for our workshop.” The workshops were developed after a series of community arts meetings in 2013, where the South Carolina Arts Commission, in partnership with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, heard from more than 80 Corridor artists and residents. The first workshop was held Sept. 30 at the Mt. Pleasant Branch of the Charleston County Library; the second took place Dec. 10 at the Georgetown County Library. All three workshops are being led by Charleston native Kerri Forrest, award-winning journalist and owner of Social Creative Media Consulting. Active in the Charleston region since her return from a distinguished career in Washington, D.C., in 2010, Forrest currently is director of Institutional Advancement for the American College of the Building Arts. She also chairs the speaker selection committee for TEDx Charleston. Other artists and local arts leaders will also participate. For additional information about the program and future meetings, contact Arts Participation Program Director Susan DuPlessis, sduplessis@arts.sc.gov or (803) 734-8693. About the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was designated a national heritage area by Congress on Oct. 12, 2006. The Corridor was created to recognize contributions made to American culture and history by African Americans known as Gullah Geechee, who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida; to assist organizations in the four states in interpreting and preserving Gullah Geechee folklore, arts, crafts, and music; and to assist in identifying and preserving Gullah Geechee sites, historical data and artifacts for the benefit and education of the public. South Carolina’s Gullah Geechee Corridor includes the eight coastal counties of Horry, Georgetown, Berkeley, Charleston , Dorchester, Colleton, Beaufort and Jasper, as well as parts of three inland counties: Marion, Williamsburg, and Hampton. For more information, visit www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org.