Signs of the arts in Beaufort

January 24, 2011 

In two weeks, Natalie Daise will be on stage. If you don't know Natalie, plan to attend her one-woman show, "Becoming Harriet Tubman," Feb. 4-6 .

If you do know Natalie, then you know why this production is one of those rare sure things.

Natalie is an artist who is skillful with transitions, in addition to acting ("Gullah Gullah Island" on Nickelodeon,) painting (see her studio at ARTworks,) storytelling and childhood development. Her knowledge and her smile bring together her talents in a smooth way that ties one piece of her art to another and ties her audiences to her heartfelt stories.

Transition is the easy-going phase of change, which is often a more comfortable experience for many people. Adept artists like Natalie offer space for this kind of growth.

Without transitions and change, we wouldn't have history.

Without history, what would Beaufort be? And furthermore, to get straight to the "Becoming Harriet Tubman" point: What motivates a woman? What are the consequences? How do we all persevere?

"In her young womanhood," Natalie explained, "Harriet came into so much strength. She believed that God told her to rescue herself or wait for someone else to. She believed her slavery was dependent on herself."

The trigger, Natalie has surmised from years of research, was when Harriet's father was freed from slavery, as per a contract, but her mother was not.

Harriet, a slave herself, hired a lawyer with no results -- until the spectacular results she got in leading the Underground Railroad and in fighting during the Civil War right here in Beaufort.

Natalie considers, rightfully, Harriet Tubman to be mythic and tough: "The mind she must have had! She was illiterate but had near perfect recall, and she had visions. She was effective, and she never got caught."

Natalie admits she wants to get on stage and "rave and honor" Tubman but that she works for balance in her storytelling, as well as towards creating the right body movements and words for her performance.

That is how effective artists and gallerists think: How do I honor my subject? How do I fulfill this artistic task?

In 1932, Walker Evans completed an artistic task, and today his photographs of Beaufort are archived by the Library of Congress. Working for the Works Progress Administration, he captured the Verdier House on Bay Street, the porch bedecked with signs for a public stenographer, a fish company, "Fruits & Vegetables," and "Art School" in large all-caps.

All those signs are about readiness and ingenuity, doorways to transition. Over the next months in Beaufort you will find more signs: the Arts Council of Beaufort County is turning 20; Mac Roger's wonderful and wonderfully priced paintings are hanging at the Beaufort Art Association; Georgia Phillips is refining her roster of artists in the Charles Street Gallery; the city is displaying art in the new city hall; Jennifer Kassing Bradley is answering the question "How Much Water is Too Much Water??" for watercolors at her Coastal Art Supply; and Fripp Island Friends of Music is filling the air with jazz, folk and the indigenous "Big Brown Bat."

Arts supporters are invited to arts advocacy day at the capitol on Feb. 8; Benjamin Franklin and Frederick Douglass also will be on stage at ARTworks in this year ,and artist-gallerist Victoria Smalls can now be found on Facebook in addition to the Red Piano Too, working like there's no tomorrow and yesterday wasn't nearly enough.

"I have always loved history," Natalie said, contemplating the motive for her performance.

She fell for the Renaissance in high school in upstate New York (where Harriet Tubman retired and was buried with full military honors), and when she moved to Beaufort, she fell for Ron Daise, too.

"He took me out to St. Helena Island, where his uncle had built Frissell Hall and his parents graduated from Penn," she said. "That was my first glimpse of what it feels like to have history around you.

"People here walk around with their personal history all the time. It's a sense of belonging. That's just cool."

And the synergy will be breathtaking when she, a 21st-century, career artist-educator here in Beaufort, takes on the 19th-century activist-humanitarian who never got caught in Beaufort way back when.

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks in Beaufort Town Center and the creator of the Beaufort SC 365 arts and travel app.

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