While we were on St Helena's Island, SC, we visited the Penn Center, once a school for freed black slaves, now a museum, art gallery, and conference center. The gallery featured an exhibit by artist Sam Doyle.
St Helena's slaves were freed by Union troops early in the Civil War (1861) but they had nowhere to go, and no way to earn a living when the Confederate plantation owners were driven from the island. Penn School was started by northern abolitionists to teach the freed Negroes to read and write and to give them marketable skills and experience to live life as free human beings.
The freed slaves of the Lowcountry region of the U.S. states of South Carolina and Georgia, which includes the coastal plain and the Sea Islands, and their descendants became known as the Gullah.
Gullah artist Sam Doyle, son of slaves, painted portraits of the first African Americans on the island to become professionals.
"St. Helena's First Black Midwife" is a portrait of the artist's grandmother.
"John Chisholm, St. Helena's First Embalmer"
Doyle painted with house paint on pieces of tin roofing and used tar on roots and branches, feathers, nails and other material for his sculptures. He also painted on plywood, burned logs, old boards, bottlecaps, refrigerator doors, porcelain sinks, metal cabinet doors. He painted on small pieces of fabric that he used for placemats for meals at his table.
Doyle covered the outside of his house and studio, once a cafe operated by his wife who had deserted him, with his paintings.
He saw himself as scribe, chronicler, and entertainer for the people of the island. His audience were the Gullah, their children, and grandchildren.
Doyle in his yard on St Helena's
(Photo by Roger Manley)
(Photos were not allowed at the exhibit. These photos are from art auction and sale sites on the Internet.)