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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.

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