Five Minutes With: Pearce Hammond, artist

July 22, 2011 

  • Buy Pearce Hammond's "The Gullahs of South Carolina" at The Red Piano Too on St. Helena Island, The Filling Station in Bluffton and Mags, Mugs and More in Beaufort. It also can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Pearce Hammond first encountered the Gullah culture as a boy in the 1950s. Now, he's trying to preserve it.

Hammond recently published "The Gullahs of South Carolina," a collection of his paintings that tells the story of the African-Americans native to the Lowcountry and Georgia coast.

A self-taught artist, Hammond worked in the trucking industry for most of his career before retiring to focus on his art. The Savannah native and relative of famed songwriter Johnny Mercer spends his days painting and writing in his Okatie-area home.

Hammond explains his desire to capture Gullah culture.

Question. When did your interest in Gullah culture begin?

Answer. It started when I was a kid. I went fishing with my father. I was about 10 years old at the time. We stopped at Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia. We pulled up, and it looked like an African village. They were speaking this language that sounded so weird to me. But they were very friendly. They were smoking mullet and shared some with us.

About 10 years later I went with my father to hunt on this plantation near Yemassee. There were a lot of Gullah over there. They were the ones who'd take people out to the duck blinds. And they spoke in that language. So those two instances really stuck out at me and piqued my interest in this culture.

Q. How many paintings have you done over the years?

A. I've done about 60 over the years of the Gullah. The book is a culmination of my Gullah art with a bit of history of the Gullah people.

Q. Where did you get your ideas for the specific paintings?

A. I used photographs and references. When I was doing research, I found some old photographs. Some of it's just from my head. ... I use nothing but primary colors. I do mix colors. But I'll just use straight red, yellow, blue. I'm influenced by (Gullah artist) Jonathan Green. He uses a lot of bright colors.

Q. When did you start painting?

A. I didn't paint seriously until I moved here in 1999. I was semi-retired then. Before that, I had a job and a family to help raise. But I started when I was young. I've never had any art training. I'm self-taught.

Q. What's your relation to Johnny Mercer?

A. He was my grandfather's half- brother. He came to Savannah all the time when I was growing up. He was the one who really got me to keep painting. He said, "You're pretty good at it; you should pursue it."

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