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New McKissick exhibition shows off artistry of sweetgrass basketmaking

Basketmakers have sewn baskets in the South Carolina Lowcountry since the 17th century.

[caption id="attachment_50861" align="alignright" width="300"] Four Corners of Justice by Georgette Wright Sanders. Provided photo. Click image to enlarge.[/caption] The tradition has been preserved at the hands of the Gullah-Geechee people, descendants of enslaved West Africans trafficked to North America. For over 300 years, basketmakers have transformed baskets from a plantation tool into an art form. Today, basketmakers continue to leverage heritage tourism to make a living, to advocate for the preservation of the ecosystem vital to the tradition, and to experiment with scale, form, and materials. Sewn Through Time: Sweetgrass Basketmakers Reimagine a Tradition traces the evolution of sweetgrass baskets in South Carolina, highlighting the innovative work of contemporary makers. The lens brought to the baskets in this exhibit by Guest Curator Kennedy Bennett is that of an insider to the basketmaking community. A recent Yale graduate, Bennett explains

Growing up in Mount Pleasant as the daughter and granddaughter of basketmakers, I was enveloped in a community that kept Gullah-Geechee traditions alive. My grandmother, Thelma Bennett, other family members, and neighbors sewed sweetgrass baskets on their porch, at their basket stand, and at local businesses appealing to tourists. I am fortunate to have immersed myself in Gullah-Geechee culture—first as a descendant, and now in academic and curatorial contexts. 

Among the makers whose work will be featured are Antwon Ford, Georgette Wright Sanders, and Adell Swinton. Ford draws inspiration from gestalt psychology and the idea of a 4th dimension to conjure sculptural forms that represent “grass in motion.” With vessels like Four Corners of Justice that invoke both South Carolina’s sweetgrass basket and 19th century face vessel traditions, Sanders redeems the past to envision a better future. Swinton’s miniature versions of classic basket forms like the ring tray and purse with lid demonstrate technical virtuosity in the service of memorializing the imaginative reservoir and entrepreneurial spirit of past makers. The opening reception for Sewn Through Time will be Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, 5:30-7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Visitors are invited to meet Bennett as she shares how she came to study and write about sweetgrass baskets.
Front page image: Basket by Antwon Ford. Click here to view enlarged.

McKissick Museum and the SCAC are partners for the agency's Folklife & Traditional Arts program. Sewn Through Time: Sweetgrass Basketmakers Reimagine a Tradition is open from Aug. 11 to Dec. 10, 2022 at McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina (816 Bull St., Columbia, at the east end of the historic Horseshoe). Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free.

Jason Rapp

McKissick Museum opens search for folklife program director

Application deadline: Friday, July 15, 2022


The University of South Carolina McKissick Museum is looking for a folklife program director to implement folklife-related public programs and research.

The position is funded by a renewable folklife partnership grant from the South Carolina Arts Commission. That grant enhances McKissick Museum’s ability to document for archival purposes the cultural practices of tradition bearers in South Carolina and to raise public awareness and appreciation of these practices through a variety of public program formats. McKissick Museum's folklife program director plans and implements folklife-related research and public programs that engage on and off campus audiences. The role will involve managing:
  • the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award
  • Phase 2 of the Tradition Bearers Survey Project
  • the Folklife Resource Center
  • the South Carolina Broadcast Archives
The person in this position is also responsible for conducting in-depth fieldwork/research and continued asset mapping in communities across the state. Minimum qualifications include a bachelor’s degree in American studies, anthropology, cultural geography, ethnomusicology, folklore, history, or related discipline and two (2 ) years of work experience in public sector folklore, folklife, ethnomusicology, or related work areas; or equivalency. Spanish fluency is strongly preferred. Learn more about the position by visiting the official posting here.

Jason Rapp

S.C. Arts Awards Spotlight Series: Ann Phillips

Folk Heritage Award: Artist Category

As the day nears for the 2022 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is focusing on this year's recipients: four receiving the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts and three receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

For centuries, South Carolina women have contributed to their communities artistically, culturally, and socially through the making of quilts.

[caption id="attachment_50361" align="alignright" width="300"] Ann Phillips, seated, receives the Folk Heritage Award May 19, 2022 from Jane Przybysz of McKissick Museum at UofSC. Click image to enlarge. McKissick Museum photo.[/caption] Though Alabama born, ANN PHILLIPS of Sumter is a 40-year contributor herself. As a child, seated under her mother’s quilt frame, she threaded needles and learned to make a secure knot. However, she didn’t begin quilting until her husband’s military job landed the Phillipses in Sumter; Phillips felt their new country home needed quilts. Central to her approach is taking a traditional quilt block pattern and using it in a new way to great visual effect. Phillips has shown immense creativity and elevated the artistry of quiltmaking. She will change the set of a block, put it on point, or frame it with multiple borders or use non-traditional fabrics and colors with the same pattern. Quilting groups in South Carolina invite her for trunk shows and presentations to demonstrate taking a traditional, simple quilt block design and doing something new with it. Phillips’ work is regularly included at the South Carolina State Fair, and she shares her skill in her community: Through partnerships at her church, she assists in making quilts for a Sumter pregnancy center, all babies born to Shaw Air Force Base families, and for area assisted living centers.    
The South Carolina Arts Awards are coming live to SCETV on Monday, June 13, 2022 at 9 p.m. ET. South Carolina ETV, the state’s public educational broadcasting network, will broadcast the awards ceremony through its 11-station TV network that spans the state. Viewers can access the broadcast via livestream on the homepage of SCETV.org; by using a digital antenna; or through cable, satellite, and streaming live TV providers. Further information about accessing SCETV is available here.

Jason Rapp

S.C. Arts Awards Spotlight Series: Duncan Rutherfurd

Folk Heritage Award: Advocacy Category

As the day nears for the 2022 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is focusing on this year's recipients: four receiving the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts and three receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

The gift of a knife to elementary-aged Duncan Rutherfurd sparked an interest that resulted in tireless dedication to raising public awareness and appreciation of South Carolina’s knifemaking tradition.

Rutherfurd is an encyclopedia of information on knifemakers in the state, though he is not one himself, and today’s knifemakers have him to thank for advocacy efforts that keep the tradition strong. Knifemaking, though specialized, has roots in blacksmithing—an essential trade for the farmers of a state dominated by agriculture. Though blacksmithing is no longer widespread anywhere, knifemaking proliferates in South Carolina because of Rutherfurd’s modernizing influence. In late 1970’s he helped organize and promote a knife show for the Aiken Arms Collectors Association. At the time, such shows were the primary way makers reached large audiences. At one of those early shows, while exhibiting his vast collection of South Carolina knives (which he still does today), he conceived of what became the South Carolina Association of Knifemakers, a network of support and learning as makers and marketers during the pre-internet 1980’s and 1990’s. As internet usage exploded, Rutherfurd used his IT background to mentor SCAK members on using it to market their wares and themselves as makers. SCAK members recognized Rutherfurd’s tremendous contributions to South Carolina’s knifemaking community with an honorary membership. He served as an advisor to McKissick Museum’s curatorial team on the exhibition Carolina Knives: The Roots of a Revival in 2021. Rutherfurd’s collection was core to one of its storylines and provided a bridge between the older generation of knifemakers and a new generation, which recently organized the South Carolina Custom Knifemakers’ Guild. [caption id="attachment_50268" align="aligncenter" width="849"] Duncan Rutherfurd, center, receives the Folk Heritage Award May 18, 2022 from Jane Przybysz of McKissick Museum at UofSC and David Platts of the SCAC. Click image to enlarge. SCAC photo by Margot Lane Strasburger.[/caption]
The South Carolina Arts Awards are coming live to SCETV on Monday, June 13, 2022 at 9 p.m. ET. South Carolina ETV, the state’s public educational broadcasting network, will broadcast the awards ceremony through its 11-station TV network that spans the state. Viewers can access the broadcast via livestream on the homepage of SCETV.org; by using a digital antenna; or through cable, satellite, and streaming live TV providers. Further information about accessing SCETV is available here.

Jason Rapp

S.C. Arts Awards Spotlight Series: Justin Guy

Folk Heritage Award: Artist Category

As the day nears for the 2022 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is focusing on this year's recipients: four receiving the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts and three receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

From his roots in the Trenton area of Edgefield County, Justin Guy has achieved acclaim as a potter after working in the craft more than 30 years.

Fascinated by the pottery from a young age, he graduated from the University of South Carolina, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus on ceramics. After school he was artist-in-residence at Taiwan’s Tainan National University for the Fine Arts, where he learned Taiwanese and other Asian ceramic processes, specifically as they relate to the tea cultures in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Additional travels across the U.S. and Europe yielded further revelations a professional ceramicist should know. Guy returned to South Carolina and began a teaching career in higher education institutions, serving multiple times at UofSC Aiken with stops at Columbia College, and Piedmont Technical College in between. Additional artist residencies during his career include the McKissick and South Carolina State museums, the Columbia Museum of Art, and area schools. His works have received honors in multiple instances of the Palmetto Hands Fine Craft Competition and Exhibition and the South Carolina State Fair. Guy is currently the master potter of the Phoenix Factory’s Old Edgefield Pottery, which has produced pottery in South Carolina for more than 200 years. [caption id="attachment_50262" align="aligncenter" width="849"] Justin Guy, center, receives the Folk Heritage Award May 18, 2022 from David Platts of the SCAC and Jane Przybysz of McKissick Museum at UofSC. Click image to enlarge. SCAC photo.[/caption]
The South Carolina Arts Awards are coming live to SCETV on Monday, June 13, 2022 at 9 p.m. ET. South Carolina ETV, the state’s public educational broadcasting network, will broadcast the awards ceremony through its 11-station TV network that spans the state. Viewers can access the broadcast via livestream on the homepage of SCETV.org; by using a digital antenna; or through cable, satellite, and streaming live TV providers. Further information about accessing SCETV is available here.

Jason Rapp

Announcing three 2022 Folk Heritage Awards recipients

for immediate release

COLUMBIA, S.C. – In 2022, the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards will be presented by the General Assembly to three recipients being honored for work keeping the state’s traditional art forms alive.

Two practicing artists and one arts advocate will be recognized as ambassadors of traditions significant to communities throughout the state. Their traditions embody folklife’s dynamic, multigenerational nature and its fusion of artistic and utilitarian ideals. The 2022 recipients are:
  • Justin Guy (Edgefield): Artist, Traditional alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery
  • Ann Phillips (Sumter): Artist, Quiltmaking
  • Duncan Rutherfurd (Aiken): Advocacy, custom knifemaking
The Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award is named for the late State Rep. Jean Laney Harris of Cheraw, respected as an outspoken advocate and ardent supporter of the arts and cultural resources of the state. Up to four artists or organizations and one advocate may receive awards each year. The program is managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) and the University of South Carolina McKissick Museum. Community members make nominations to recognize exemplary artistic achievement/advocacy. An independent advisory panel appointed by the lieutenant governor and president of the Senate select the recipients, who must be living and practicing in the state. As McKissick Museum Executive Director Jane Przybysz notes, “This year’s recipients in the artist category have become masters of longstanding South Carolina traditional arts. The practice of turning stoneware from local clays dates to the first decade of the 19th century in Edgefield, South Carolina. And we know that—by the time the Sumter Agricultural Association was offering a premium of $2 for the best patchwork quilt in 1852—quiltmaking was a well-established craft in South Carolina communities. For centuries, South Carolina’s blacksmiths kept alive the knowledge of metalworking that enabled them to craft knives among the myriad of other tools famers relied upon. This year’s folklife advocate has worked to amplify the revival of custom knifemaking that arose in response to our citizens’ continued love of the outdoors.” “The recipients of this year’s Folk Heritage Awards embody not only South Carolina’s rich artistic traditions, but also our broad diversity as a people and society,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director David Platts said. “Their crafts – now recognized as art forms in their own right – represent an important connection to, and recognition of, South Carolina’s cultural past. At the same time, they remain an integral and vibrant part of communities across the Palmetto State today. These artists do exceptional work that enriches the lives of all South Carolinians, and for that we are all fortunate and grateful.” Recipients of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards and South Carolina Governor’s Awards for the Arts are honored during a video presentation of the South Carolina Arts Awards. The SCAC and McKissick Museum are finalizing plans for the 2022 awards and will announce details on a later date.

About the 2022 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award Recipients

Justin Guy | Edgefield | Artist, Traditional alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery From his roots in the Trenton area of Edgefield County, JUSTIN GUY has achieved acclaim as a potter after working in the craft more than 30 years. Fascinated by the pottery from a young age, he graduated from the University of South Carolina, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a focus on ceramics. After school he was artist-in-residence at Taiwan’s Tainan National University for the Fine Arts, where he learned Taiwanese and other Asian ceramic processes, specifically as they relate to the tea cultures in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Additional travels across the U.S. and Europe yielded further revelations a professional ceramicist should know. Guy returned to South Carolina and began a teaching career in higher education institutions, serving multiple times at UofSC Aiken with stops at Columbia College, and Piedmont Technical College in between. Additional artist residencies during his career include the McKissick and South Carolina State museums, the Columbia Museum of Art, and area schools. His works have received honors in multiple instances of the Palmetto Hands Fine Craft Competition and Exhibition and the South Carolina State Fair. Guy is currently the master potter of the Phoenix Factory’s Old Edgefield Pottery, which has produced pottery in South Carolina for more than 200 years. Ann Phillips | Sumter | Artist, Quiltmaking For centuries, South Carolina women have contributed to their communities artistically, culturally, and socially through the making of quilts. Though Alabama born, ANN PHILLIPS of Sumter is a 40-year contributor herself. As a child, seated under her mother’s quilt frame, she threaded needles and learned to make a secure knot. However, she didn’t begin quilting until her husband’s military job landed the Phillipses in Sumter; Phillips felt their new country home needed quilts. Central to her approach is taking a traditional quilt block pattern and using it in a new way to great visual effect. Phillips has shown immense creativity and elevated the artistry of quiltmaking. She will change the set of a block, put it on point, or frame it with multiple borders or use non-traditional fabrics and colors with the same pattern. Quilting groups in South Carolina invite her for trunk shows and presentations to demonstrate taking a traditional, simple quilt block design and doing something new with it. Phillips’ work is regularly included at the South Carolina State Fair, and she shares her skill in her community: Through partnerships at her church, she assists in making quilts for a Sumter pregnancy center, all babies born to Shaw Air Force Base families, and for area assisted living centers. Duncan Rutherfurd | Aiken | Advocacy, Custom knifemaking The gift of a knife to elementary-aged DUNCAN RUTHERFURD sparked an interest that resulted in tireless dedication to raising public awareness and appreciation of South Carolina’s knifemaking tradition. Rutherfurd is an encyclopedia of information on knifemakers in the state, though he is not one himself, and today’s knifemakers have him to thank for advocacy efforts that keep the tradition strong. Knifemaking, though specialized, has roots in blacksmithing—an essential trade for the farmers of a state dominated by agriculture. Though blacksmithing is no longer widespread anywhere, knifemaking proliferates in South Carolina because of Rutherfurd’s modernizing influence. In late 1970’s he helped organize and promote a knife show for the Aiken Arms Collectors Association. At the time, such shows were the primary way makers reached large audiences. At one of those early shows, while exhibiting his vast collection of South Carolina knives (which he still does today), he conceived of what became the South Carolina Association of Knifemakers (SCAK), a network of support and learning as makers and marketers during the pre-internet 1980’s and 1990’s. As internet usage exploded, Rutherfurd used his IT background to mentor SCAK members on using it to market their wares and themselves as makers. SCAK members recognized Rutherfurd’s tremendous contributions to South Carolina’s knifemaking community with an honorary membership. He served as an advisor to McKissick Museum’s curatorial team on the exhibition Carolina Knives: The Roots of a Revival in 2021. Rutherfurd’s collection was core to one of its storylines and provided a bridge between the older generation of knifemakers and a new generation, which recently organized the South Carolina Custom Knifemakers’ Guild.
About the University of South Carolina McKissick Museum The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum tells the story of southern life: community, culture, and the environment. The Museum is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe with available parking in the garage at the corner of Pendleton and Bull streets. All exhibitions are free and open to the public. The Museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The Museum is closed Sundays and university holidays. For more information, please call at 803.777.7251 or visit https://sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/mckissick_museum/.
About the South Carolina Arts Commission The mission of the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) is to promote equitable access to the arts and support the cultivation of creativity in South Carolina. We envision a South Carolina where the arts are valued and all people benefit from a variety of creative experiences. A state agency created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the SCAC works to increase public participation in the arts by providing grants, direct programs, staff assistance and partnerships in four areas: arts learning, community and traditional arts, artist development, and arts industry. Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the SCAC is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts, and other sources. Visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696, and follow @scartscomm on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for #Arts4SC and #SCartists content.
South Carolina Arts Commission News Release, Media Contact: Jason L. Rapp, Communications Director. jrapp@arts.sc.gov or 803.734.8899

Jason Rapp

IAAM gets third round of support from Ford Foundation

Grant to assist Gullah storytelling, more

The International African American Museum has received a grant of $500,000 from the Ford Foundation that will support its inaugural year of operation, including exhibition installations and early programming, genealogy workshops, and Gullah storytelling programs.

This is the third grant from Ford to the museum since 2017, and it brings the foundation’s total gifts to nearly $1 million. With opening set for late 2022, this investment comes at a crucial time. IAAM President and CEO Dr. Tonya Matthews called 2022 a "momentum year." “As we head down the finish line of artifact and exhibition installation, we are also launching several programs and beginning to connect with educators across the country while we design our K-12 curriculum,” Matthews said. “We are only able to do this with the vision and support of organizations like the Ford Foundation. We are incredibly grateful for their continuing support.” Exhibitions will explore the real human cost and suffering of slavery, but they will also honor ancestors; celebrate cultures, like Gullah Geechee, that were forged in the crucible of the antebellum South; explore the cultural impact that began in Charleston and spread across the U.S. and the Caribbean; and then connect descendants to their ancestors through an award-winning genealogical research center. “We are honored to work with the International African American Museum and ensure that the history of enslaved Africans is preserved for years to come,” said Margaret Morton, director of creativity and free expression for the Ford Foundation. “The museum will be a critical resource for researchers and visitors alike, and we look forward to seeing the lasting impact its programming will provide.” Ford’s support for the International African American Museum will provide visitors—nationally and internationally—an opportunity to experience the African American journey at one of the most historic sites in the nation: the former Gadsden's Wharf, the point of disembarkation for so many enslaved Africans. Matthews is eager to open the museum doors to visitors. "The International African American Museum is excited to have the Ford Foundation among its partners. Both institutions strive to ensure that all individuals, and their stories, receive just and equitable treatment. The stories and artifacts within the museum, alongside the connections made because of them, are being intentionally curated with this understanding. The International African American Museum will prompt difficult conversations, tell a complete history, and spark action to build a more perfect union,” she said.
The International African American Museum (IAAM) explores cultures and knowledge systems retained and adapted by Africans in the Americas and the diverse journeys and achievements of these individuals and their descendants in South Carolina, the United States, and throughout the African Diaspora. IAAM is a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history and is thus one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as it evolves today. Set to open in late 2022, IAAM is positioned to honor the untold stories of the African American journey from Charleston, S.C., at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf and beyond. For more information, please visit iaamuseum.org or call 843-872-5352.
The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization with assets currently valued at $16 billion. For more than 85 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the Foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

Jason Rapp

Nominations open for S.C.’s best in arts, folklife

Time to recognize arts achievement, influence, and support!

NOMINATION DEADLINES: Friday, November 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET

Nominations are now open to honor persons or organizations in South Carolina who exhibit the highest levels of achievement, influence or support of arts and folklife with the South Carolina Arts Awards.

South Carolina Governor’s Awards for the Arts

The South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) is accepting nominations for the South Carolina Governor’s Award for the Arts, which recognizes persons or organizations in South Carolina who exhibit outstanding achievement or support of the arts. The Governor’s Awards use a simple, online nomination process, and all it takes to make a nomination is one letter, which should describe the nominee's exemplary contributions to the arts in South Carolina in these categories: Artist, Individual, Arts in Education, Government, Business/Foundation, and Organization. A nomination letter should address any characteristics included in the category descriptions. The nomination letters are due Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET. For complete nomination guidelines or more information about the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or contact Senior Deputy Director Milly Hough: mhough@arts.sc.gov or 803.734.8698.

Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards

The SCAC, with McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina, honors the state’s exceptional folklife and traditional arts practitioners and advocates with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards. The South Carolina General Assembly created the awards in 1987 to recognize lifetime achievement in the traditional arts and presents them annually to honor the work of stewarding and furthering the traditional arts significant to communities throughout the state. McKissick Museum is collecting nominations until Friday, Nov. 5, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET. For additional information and advisement, contact museum Executive Director Jane Przybysz: jprzybys@mailbox.sc.edu or 803.777.7251.
The South Carolina Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards are presented at the South Carolina Arts Awards ceremony in the spring. Nine distinguished recipients were recognized in May 2021 for exceptional achievements in, support of, or advocacy for the arts at a professional produced virtual ceremony. Details about the 2022 South Carolina Arts Awards will be announced later.

Jason Rapp

From The State: Sweetgrass basketry fighting for survival

A tradition in peril


Sweetgrass basketry intertwines with South Carolina heritage in the same way that the grasses come together to form the renowned finished product.

But for how much longer will it be part of the present? Today, Caitlin Byrd of The State tries to get a grasp on the situation (subscription possibly required):

Also driving up the price of baskets is the increased development in the coastal region, which continues to cut off access to the very plants Black families use to make sweetgrass baskets. And then there’s the concern about time itself, as a generation of sewers worry that this craft, which can trace its origins to the 17th century, will not be carried on in the way it once was.

This traditional art form is no stranger to The Hub or the South Carolina Arts Commission.
  • Sweetgrass basketmakers have been Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients many times since the first in 1990, and the most recent was in 2018. (The Folk Heritage Award is presented annually by the SCAC and its partner the University of South Carolina McKissick Museum.)
  • A basket by Mary Jackson, one of the most decorated artisans, is included in the State Art Collection and is included in The State's story.

Jason Rapp

S.C. Arts Awards: Robert W. Hill III

2021 Recipient Feature Series

As the day nears for the 2021 South Carolina Arts Awards, The Hub is focusing on this year's recipients: seven receiving the South Carolina Governor's Awards for the Arts and two receiving the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which are managed jointly by the South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.

Robert W. Hill III

Advocacy Category: American Long Rifle & Accoutrements | Folk Heritage Award

Robert W. Hill III began making duck decoys in his early 20's, and eventually added other figures and animals to his repertoire. Hill’s work ranged from traditional whittling to refined sculptures. Both of his grandfathers were accomplished blacksmiths, woodcarvers, and gun stockers. While neither of them lived long enough to teach Hill their skills, he grew up an avid outdoorsman with an interest in the skills that supported his passion, which included decoy carving, forging knives, and carving gun stocks. In 1985, his desire to own a handmade muzzle- loading rifle drove him to learn more about the traditional crafts of blacksmithing, tool making, stock carving, inlaying, and engraving. While attending art shows across the region, Hill had the opportunity to watch and learn from master engraver Jack Spain. Spain would share tips on engraving and teach Hill how to make his own engraving tools. Back at home, Hill practiced engraving on scrap metal, constantly comparing his work to examples of engraving on historic firearms. He attempted to mimic the work of the Gillespie family of gunsmiths from Pickens County and the Vogler family of Salem, North Carolina. These Carolina gunsmithing families had established styles that were recognized as the best representatives of America’s golden age of gunsmithing. Hill also developed a relationship with master gunsmith Frank Burton, who was running a shop out of Pawleys Island. Burton shared his collection of original Carolina rifles with Hill, who was soon producing his first muzzle-loader. The untimely death of Burton prevented Hill from completing a long-term apprenticeship with the master gunsmith, but he certainly made the most of his time with the artist. Hill attended Dixon’s Gunmaker’s Fair in Kempton, Pennsylvania, a conference of traditional gun makers and after a year of studying and experimenting, Hill completed his first rifle. He took the rifle to the next conference in Kempton and entered it in the competition so he could receive the judges’ critique sheet to learn how to improve. To his surprise, his first rifle won a second- and third- place ribbon in the show. Hill recognized the need to preserve the craft and continued his training by studying historic firearms from the Carolinas. Hill embraced the chance to work with older makers. Today, he is part of a thriving community of gunsmiths and is recognized by gunsmiths across the region as both an exemplary artist and an advocate. The success of his first gun spurred him on to continue gun making and share what he knew with others who wanted to learn the craft and, like him, did not have access to formal training. Hill began demonstrating at Kings Mountain State Park in 1986 and continued to do so until 1999. He has promoted the art of traditional gunsmithing to thousands of people in the Southeast over the past thirty years. He continues to demonstrate gun building techniques, including carving and engraving, at living history events, battlefields, museums, and historic sites. These include Middleton Place, Charlestown Landing, Historic Camden, Horry County Museum, L.W. Paul Living History Farm, House in the Horseshoe, Guilford Courthouse, Colonial Williamsburg, Georgetown County Museum, and the Lake City Museum. He has been the gunsmith at the North Carolina State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear for over twenty years and was instrumental in organizing the South Carolina Muzzleloader Conference at the South Carolina State Museum in 2015, where he volunteered as an event organizer, demonstrator, and lecturer. In 1994, Hill co-founded the South Carolina Artist Blacksmith Association, later to become the Phillip Simmons Artists Blacksmith Guild of South Carolina. He served as president of the group for ten years and frequently demonstrated forging and engraving techniques. He is also a member of the Contemporary Longrifle Association. In 2014, Hill was documented in the Survey of South Carolina Tradition Bearers a joint project of McKissick Museum and the S.C. Arts Commission. Through demonstrations and lectures, he has educated people about gun makers from South Carolina to recognize and preserve the contributions of the artists of the State’s past artists. Hill has been instrumental in passing his skills onto others, including his son and grandson, assuring a legacy of continued preservation, study, and celebration of the traditional craft of gunsmithing.
The South Carolina Arts Awards stream live Monday, May 24, 2021. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. on SouthCarolinaArts.com. There is no in-person event in 2021. The virtual ceremony will be available on demand from the S.C. Arts Commission YouTube Channel after the livestream presentation.

Meet the Recipients

Use these links to read the long-form bios of the other 2021 South Carolina Arts Awards recipients.

Jason Rapp