← View All Articles

Beaufort County students get creative, go national

From The Island Packet Column by Lisa Annelouise Rentz

"Our home is the origins of Africans in the United States," Tanya Phillips reminded eleven high school students at the St. Helena branch library. "Tell a story from your area. What perspective are you coming from? What do you want your audience to see?" We were sitting in the meeting room where a twenty-five foot ceiling gave these young artists plenty of room to consider her words. Space is a primary factor in getting creative work done, and there it is on St. Helena Island, along with fields of strawberries and breakfasts of just-caught oysters. Phillips is organizing the first group of Beaufort students-- poets, actors, dancers and engineers-- to compete in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. The event was founded in 1978 by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The group has been meeting at the library, a contemporary facility that is just as inspiring to these students as Phillips' words and actions. The building, opened in 2012, has clean angles and smooth curves, lots of sunlight and glass, and is equipped with array of tools-- an audio lab, a room woven like a cast net and an amphitheater-like reading garden among them. These components form a studio that every artist could use. It's no coincidence that Penn Center, that historically creative and inspirational place, is the library's neighbor. Tenth grader Jordan Johnson, who wore a delicate scarf draped around her shoulders, is competing in both drama and painting. "I've always been a dramatic child to begin with," she said. So far she's been behind the scenes, building props. "I love every aspect, but now I've decided to be on the frontlines," she said. She's working on voice projection and stage presence with a three minute monologue. "Having confidence is about letting people know that you know what you are doing," she said. Her painting will be a landscape. "My dad and I scouted and took lots of pictures of marshes and birds taking off." After the business meeting, a few of us moved into the cast net room. It spirals like a nautilus shell in the center of the library. Even with its open weave, walking into it feels like a separate place. There, the high schoolers discussed why they're competing. "It's important to get experience and connect with good people who have your best interest in mind," Johnson said. "This will be the first time I'm performing as myself," said Tavian Smalls. His art-making tool is the saxophone. "I've already done big performances," said poet William Garvin. "This is good to get my name out there." Garvin's stage name is Da Troot. He recently performed his poem "No Regrets" at the Penn Center Civil Right Symposium and for the board of education. He was inspired by anti-violence demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. "I write a poem every day," Garvin explained, "to figure out what I'm most connected to." Before he started writing, he was frustrated. "I would shut down, and I was showing up at in-school suspension all the time," he said. Finally, someone put paper and pencil in his hands. Now, "I just rhyme, put my perspective on everything I see," he said. And he spends a lot of time at the library, serving on the teen advisory board, teaching others to use the audio lab, and organizing open mic events in the reading garden-- which is where we went next to take photographs for the souvenir program. The garden is a grand, open space with benches, tufts of sweet grass and a view of the big trees on Penn Center's property, all reflected in the glass wall of the library. Steps run the length of the building and form an organic stage for whoever stops there with something to say about what rhymes for them. Students have until May 2, when they will show off their creative ambitions at the Performing Arts Center at the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. Marlena Smalls will emcee. In July, contenders will move on to the nationals in Philadelphia, to compete for $200,000, recognition, internships and publication-- and meaningful connections between their heritage, the world, and their ideas. Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives in Beaufort.
Image: photos from the 2014 national event.

New Penn Center director envisions visitor destination

According to the Island Packet, new director Michael Campi wants to take the Penn Center experience to the next level - "not just looking, but doing."

The new executive director of the Penn Center says the site has an important story to tell that should attract visitors on its own merits to learn about the culture of slave descendants on South Carolina's sea islands. "I'm trying to turn Penn into a destination — not just a place you go to on a rainy day while you're on vacation," Michael Campi told the Associated Press during a recent interview. Campi has been on the job for about four months at the center that during its first 150 years has served as a school for freed slaves, a Jim Crow-era industrial school and a retreat center for leaders of the civil rights movement — most notably the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The center, with 19 buildings and a museum about a two-hour drive southwest of Charleston, is the nation's only national historic landmark district owned and operated by a minority. Its mission is to not only tell the story of the Gullah past, but work to preserve the culture today threatened by rapid coastal development. Gullah is the name of the culture of descendants of sea island slaves in the Carolinas. Campi, 53 and the first white executive director in the last half-century, comes to the Penn Center with a varied 30-year background with fundraising and other nonprofit organizations. That work included working with Junior Achievement and running a shelter for abused youngsters. "I'm a come ya, that's the Gullah term," Campi, who is from Conway, S.C., said, referring to the creole language's term for people who arrive on the islands, or come here, from outside. But he said that also gives him a new perspective on the center and its potential. "I think that's exactly the perspective the trustees wanted and why I am here," Campi said. He has asked Walter Mack, whom he succeeded as executive director and who has been at Penn a quarter-century, to develop a master plan for the center and its property by year's end. The center owns about 500 acres on the sea islands, about 40 percent of which is rented to others for agriculture. Campi said there may be uses for the rest of the land from harvesting timber to growing hay to raising black angus beef to sell to restaurants and the public. He'd like to bring in craftspeople such as sweetgrass basket makers and cast net weavers to show their crafts regularly to center visitors who could then make small baskets or nets of their own. "I want to take the experience to the next level — not just looking, but doing," he said. Perhaps the center's marsh tacky horse named Bo could be tethered outside the center's museum to greet visitors. Or perhaps Bo could lead visitors along the center's one-mile nature trail while a Gullah storyteller rides and tells Gullah tales, he said. The marsh tacky has long played an important role Gullah culture, suited as they are to toiling long hours in brush, swamps and the oppressive humidity of the sea islands. Campi suggested that perhaps the cottage where King penned his "I Have a Dream" speech could be made into a library for research about the civil rights leader. Such changes will be a group decision, he said. "I really feel that people by and large are taking a wait-and-see approach with me. What is this middle-aged, white, balding guy going to do with Penn? I'm trying to lead by consensus," he said. In a bigger way, though, Campi feels he is somehow meant to be here. Then running psychiatric hospital in Kingstree, S.C., he interviewed for the job last Valentine's Day. But shortly afterward, a medical condition left him in a coma for a month. He emerged from the coma and about a week later was told he had the Penn Center job. "God hit me over the head and said you've got one control-alt-delete — you've got one reset," he said. "I think the Lord said this is where you are going."
Via: The Island Packet

Students invited to submit art for Sam Doyle Celebration in Beaufort

Sam Doyle, Wellcome TableARTworks in Beaufort and the Penn Center invite students to submit artwork as part of the Sam Doyle Celebration, an event recognizing St. Helena Island native and self-taught artist Sam Doyle's ingenuity and self-expression. Doyle documented life on the island with house paint and honesty, scraps of tin and a strong sense of humanity, often painting on household objects. Students are encouraged to do so as well, using items such as plywood, tin roofing, empty paint cans, doors, etc. Teachers are encouraged to take advantage of several educational resources to teach students about Doyle and then have students create art for the celebration. Teachers may submit work by students in grades 3 through 12, and work should reflect what students have learned about Doyle and from his paintings. 2D and 3D visual art works are eligible. Entries are welcome from any school, not just Beaufort County schools. Available resources:

  • DVD of Victoria Small's "Sam Doyle: Historical Portrait of a Gullah Icon" presentation
  • Color copy of "Sam Doyle: Haints & Saints" by Gordon W. Bailey (a booklet of Doyle's biography, context, and 10 paintings.)
  • "Sam Doyle's Themes & History Lessons" lesson plan -- a discussion guide of Doyle's themes, subjects and materials.
  • "That's Natural, Man"  -- five steps through sketches and creative writing.
The resources, other helpful links and complete submission details are posted on ARTworks' website. Find more about Doyle and his work on the Foundation for Self Taught Artist's website, and view Doyle's work, Adlade, a Slave, which is in the South Carolina Arts Commission's State Art Collection. Artwork must be delivered to the Penn Center by Oct. 1. All accepted work will be exhibited at Penn Center in October, with three pieces chosen for recognition. Student artwork will be part of Sam Doyle Night, scheduled for 5 - 8 p.m. on Oct. 10, when Penn Center's collection of Doyle's paintings will be on display. Student work will be for sale (at a very affordable price) and will benefit ARTworks & Penn Center's continued support for emerging student artists. The public is invited to the Oct. 10 event  (tickets are $25), but students, their immediate families and sponsoring teachers are admitted free. Contact Victoria Smalls, director of history and culture at Penn Center, for information about the event and arrangements: (843) 838-2432. Related: Read more about the Sam Doyle Celebration. Image: Sam Doyle, Wellcome Table. Collection of Gordon W. Bailey. Via: ARTworks    

ARTworks and the Beaufort community celebrate artist Sam Doyle

Beginning in September, visitors to ARTworks in Beaufort will have the rare opportunity to see the work of self-taught artist Sam Doyle presented in the community where he spent his life and derived his inspirations. The Sam Doyle Celebration kicks off Sept. 22 with a special reception and runs through Oct. 6. All paintings in the exhibition are on loan from private collections. Born in 1906 on St. Helena Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Doyle "fashioned his uniquely styled personal portraits and tributes with evangelical enthusiasm, blending ancestral Gullah lore and his devout Baptist faith into a rich multicultural impasto," according to Gordon W. Bailey, an expert on Doyle's work. Doyle attended Penn School (now the Penn Center), established in 1862 to provide educational and vocational skills to newly liberated slaves. Sam Doyle, Penn DrummerThe artist filled his property -- the "St. Helena Out Door Art Gallery -- with portraits of people important to his community, such as Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., First Black Midwife, Penn Drummer (detail pictured right, from the collection of Gordon W. Bailey) and other icons. He also created two important series: "Penn" (school), which paid tribute to people associated with the historic center and "First" (achievements), which commemorated special events such as the first football game played on St. Helena Island. "I have been intrigued by his art, and the man, since I moved to Beaufort 20 years ago," said Claudette Humphrey, a board member for ARTworks. "It's time that we have a Sam Doyle Celebration so the rest of the community can be inspired by his unique art style and talent. The children and the community need to be enriched by his creativity and the diversity of Gullah art." Sam Doyle, Wellcome TableThe Sam Doyle Celebration opening reception is Sept. 22 from 2 - 5 p.m. Tickets are $25 and must be purchased in advance by calling (843) 379-2787. The reception includes special guests sharing firsthand stories about Doyle, a presentation by Victoria Smalls, Penn's Center director of history and culture, and a buffet at the "Wellcome Table," inspired by one of the artist's paintings (pictured left, from the collection of Gordon W. Bailey). On Oct. 10, the Penn Center will host Sam Doyle Night from 5 to 8 p.m., where guests can see the center's Sam Doyle Collection and enjoy a student art show and sale. Tickets are $25. Call (843) 838-2432 for more information. Related: Students invited to submit art for celebration. The Sam Doyle Celebration is a partnership between ARTworks, Penn Center, the Red Piano Too gallery, and Gordon W. Bailey. For more information about Doyle, the exhibition and related events, visit ARTworks' website. For more information about Doyle's life and work, visit the Foundation for Self Taught Artists website. View Sam Doyle's work, Adlade, a Slave, which is in the South Carolina Arts Commission's State Art Collection. Via: ARTworks