'Looking Back on the Beaufort Museum" is an exhibition of artwork collected by the Fine Arts Committee of the 1960s and 1970s, on display at the Beaufort History Museum in City Hall. Viewing this show felt like being in the home of a stylish great aunt; framed landscapes form interior pathways, a grouping of artwork by the hands of people from the same community creates a sensation of civility.
Many of the artists' names in this show are local -- Levin, Christensen, Hryharrow, Rhett -- and many of those attending the opening reception knew the artists. Pam Hagan, who has a studio at Atelier on Bay, pointed out that many of the artists were founders of the Beaufort Art Association. I overheard someone else exclaim, "I had forgotten about all these people!"
The crowd at the reception was serenaded by a quintet from the Beaufort Youth Orchestra ("Bravo!," Jane Chakides called out to them,) and greeted by Carol Lauvray, a docent and committee member, and Anna Schaffer, the 20-something board president of the museum.
Photographer Richard Darby was snapping away, so I asked him which painting stood out to him. He went straight to "Portrait of a Little Girl," an oil on canvas by Alberta Lubkin.
"This is the piece that stopped me, the red bow jumps. It really captures childhood," Darby said. "And the size is a good choice." The canvas is cozy like a paperback, meant to be read, meant to be held.
The child is the granddaughter of Patsy Johnson, who worked for the Lubkins. The child is an individual, a toddler who looks like she's about to say a certain word for the first time, something fun like "popsicle" or "hydrangea" or "concertina."
Carla Daniels attended the reception because her friend J.J. Jackson is a docent for the museum. After taking in the scenes of farms and flowers and boats, she said she enjoys "seeing what someone else saw," which is one of the best summaries of the art experience I've heard.
Jackson started volunteering earlier this year. "I'm learning a lot here," she said. "I like it when people ask questions. The museum is a textbook come to life. I'm looking forward to the move; I assumed it was always at the Arsenal." At the end of this month, the all-volunteer organization is packing up its Civil War cannon balls and 1880s velvet gowns and moving a few blocks over to the Arsenal on Craven Street.
I asked Patsy Collins which painting she liked, and she also walked over to the "Little Girl." "She's so sweet; everyone likes this one and wonders, 'Who is she?' " The way she's looking straight out and the frame are wonderful." Collins said she attended because she's a supporter of the museum and an art lover.
Katie McAllister moved here recently, she's a mezzo-soprano formerly with the Dallas Opera. "I'm just a big Beaufort fan. I had no idea there was so much history," she said.
Jane Chakides was taken with the "Unicyclist" sculpture by Arthur Rose Sr. "You can use your imagination; it reminds me of Don Quixote, and mimes in Paris," she said.
Ellen Osmanski, a painter of geometric designs and color schools, had donated a portrait by her mother Ellen. "Minerva" is a beautiful woman who looked, on the merits of her youth and hairstyle and Osmanski's painting style, like a movie star from the 1970s. Quentin Tarantino could hang this piece on his wall and dream up a whole new movie.
The history museum is deaccessioning the art because of limited space and their focus on history. "I would love to hear from families connected to the art," Schaffer said. She explained that the museum, founded in 1939, wasn't only about history, as it is now. The Fine Arts Committee was responding to the artist haven that Beaufort had become. They solicited donations and arranged purchases of the art.
Then Schaffer took a step toward a certain painting: the "Little Girl": "This is the whole reason for the exhibit. I was heartbroken that it was in storage."
The work of the Fine Arts Committee still ripples out. The museum will place the art in public spots, ensuring that the seesaw of history, so weighted on one side with cannon balls and battle flags, continues to uplift the art of seeing what others see.
Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives and writes in Beaufort.