The "Mother to Son" exhibit at the Green Herring Art Gallery is more than just paintings on display. It's a milestone for a family.
The exhibit showcases the work of Victoria Smalls and her son Christopher.
"We've always wanted to show together," Victoria said. "This is just the first time we've been able to."
Victoria, a St. Helena Island native, is a self-taught artist who only recently has begun to show her work. She started painting in earnest about 10 years ago. Her mother was a pastel artist. Victoria had taken an art class once, but it wasn't until she was in a tight spot that she took it up again. She was invited to a gift exchange, but didn't have much money for a gift. Instead, she dug out her art supplies and got to work. The small painting turned out to be a hit.
She continued to paint. She lined the walls of her home with it, replacing the old framed posters and prints. She painted so much she started to give away her work.
Eventually, she worked up the courage to take her art to the Red Piano Too Art Gallery on St. Helena to get feedback. To her surprise, they hung some of her work. She didn't think much of it until they started sending her checks when each painting sold. Then a note saying they needed more of her work.
"It was exciting for me to not only have my work on my own walls but that other people wanted to hang it on their walls, too," said Victoria, who serves as the history and culture coordinator at Penn Center.
Christopher, one of three children, was a talented singer but started to paint as well. His work went beyond the folk art of his mother. He started painting and drawing in old books, using the words as a canvas for gnarly oak trees.
His work was featured in the "Do You See What I See" exhibit that showcased new artists at ARTworks in 2009. Hank Herring, a Beaufort artist who organized the show, took him under his wing.
Christopher is now a junior at Winthrop University, studying art.
"(My mother) exposed me to art," Christopher said. "I wonder what would have happened if she didn't."
When searching out a title for the show, Victoria thought of a Langston Hughes' poem. It's called "Mother to Son," told from the viewpoint of a parent. She'd known the poem for a while, its words ringing true at certain moments of her life:
"Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair. ...
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners, ...
Don't you fall now --
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair."