Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sam Doyle, Gullah Artist

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.)


  1. Cynthia the landscape is interesting there. You have sunny days but in Europe is cold and raindy and we are waiting for better weather . Have a nice week

  2. I hope you gave the "lost" bugger a friendly smile??
    Colin (Brisbane. Australia)

    1. Having with a large smirk on my "gizza", I have thought of a few
      scenarios of you peddling furiously around that bend and there
      is your 8 foot friend with gaping mouth to welcome you.
      Nah! Modesty and decency beseeches me to refrain - your
      viewers may all suffer terrible shocks!
      I may e-mail my scenarios???
      Would you like bloody miserable, foggy, drizzly weather?
      Apply Weather Bureau: Brisbane Qld. Australia.

  3. The weather is warming up in the UK with temperatures in the 30s this week. What a fright that 'gator would have given you on the bike - enough to make you break the speed limit to get home!

  4. Beautiful tranquil scenes in your photos. Will the alligator incident make you feel a little cautious out cycling? It would me - but then we are not used to such wild creatures here...we can wander around in the swampy mangroves with no snakes, crocodiles or anything bitey here in NZ.

  5. Not exactly a Minnesota cycling experience...hope you never run into one with your bike or see one either while biking! :)

  6. Oh my gosh! I am so glad you were not on your bike when you saw the gator. But I'm glad to read that you have your bike with you!

  7. You got some great photos on your bike ride. An 8 ft. alligator would certainly get my attention.

  8. You took us on a lovely bike ride such a scenic view. I am so glad we don't have creatures like that here but then we haven't had the greatest of weather either.

  9. Like flat hills to ride a push goodness the gator, I guess you would have ridden like mad out of there..

  10. Wow! Well, an alligator would certainly concentrate the mind; hope you can cycle faster than they can run!!

  11. The flat landscapes looks very simular as the dutch ones. No hills for cycling is great to go around. An alligator on the road is very unusual to see, I would have turned around with my bike as quick as I could.

  12. I'm not much of a bike rider, but we did it when we went down to the Everglades and there were alligators every where, a bit spooky. You'll get use to them, they're every where in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. I use to run and grab my camera every time we saw the one who lives in the lagoon out back, now I give him a look and keep going.

  13. Oh my I would have freaked if I were out on a bike and spotted an alligator! The area you biked is beautiful I can see why you like it.

    It's cooled down here too this weekend. By Sunday it was only 51 and I'd had to close the windows and add the winter comforter to the bed because I refused to turn the heat on. :-) I'm hoping it warms back up but know a break from the heat and humidity there is much welcome.

  14. I love your wildflowers. It's been awfully hot over here in Hawaii. It hit almost 90 degrees F here. I really hate the humidity.

  15. Good grief! An alligator! Will you ride your bike along there again? I would be scared to death! :)

  16. July 6 2015 That must have been an interesting art exhibit...wonder why his wife left him? :)

  17. Amazing story and touching paintings. So great he could express himself with the art and giving us a look at his life.

  18. What a great piece of history.

  19. Interesting, you'll have to visit Sapelo Island, the tour there is done by a Gullah.

  20. The naive art is wonderful - he had a lot to be excited about. The painting are pure, raw emotion.