Arts & Culture

'Along a Southern Road' exhibit takes artistic look at rural South Carolina

"Front Porch," by Matthew Crawford
"Front Porch," by Matthew Crawford Submitted photo

U.S. 321 begins as a two-lane highway in Hardeeville and curves up toward Tennessee through sparsely-populated towns with names like Estill, Ulmer and McConnells, population 287. It's an alternate route to interstates in South Carolina, and its rural people and places caught the eye of landscape photographer Mark Tierney.

Tierney's photographs -- available for viewing July 12-19 at Picture This Gallery on Hilton Head Island -- capture the dirt roads, grain silos and abandoned buildings he encountered while driving countless times along the highway in South Carolina. The exhibit, titled "Along a Southern Road," include Tierney's first images from an ongoing multimedia documentary called "SC HWY 321."

In Ulmer: A squat building overrun with snaking vines. A hand-painted sign on the wall reads "ABC Package Shop."

In Olar: Janie's Flea Market. The boarded-up windows, old tires and deserted piles of junk surrounding the lot suggest Janie has found other places to sell her wares.

In Estill, next to Wiggins & Son Hardware: A lonely outline of a building that has since been removed. The white empty space contrasts with the red brick around it.

"It becomes a question of, 'What's not there anymore?'" Tierney said. Normally the Lowcountry swamps are his subjects of choice, but the flat subtleness of the rural back roads and their untold stories drew him in, he said.

Complementing Tierney's photos in the exhibit is work from painter Matthew Crawford. While Tierney's photos feature old buildings in relation to their surroundings, Crawford's acrylics and pastels zoom in on loose boards and caved-in roofs.

"Mine is the stuff you find along the highway," Crawford said. "I very much like windows and doors, the geometry of structures."

As a professional land surveyor, the former Hilton Head Island resident runs across old stuff and old buildings all the time. His body of work includes paintings of irregular, slanted buildings on Daufuskie Island and the industrial shapes of the Savannah paper mill.

He and his wife, Betsy, also enjoy photographing water towers along the sides of roads. They used to own an art studio on the island, but have since relocated to North Carolina.

"I'm glad to be back here for a show," Crawford said. He and Tierney are longtime friends.

"They complement each other so very well, work-wise and personality-wise, one with a sketchbook and one with a camera," said Mira Scott, who owns Picture This Gallery along with Tierney. "We want to give people who are new here a better understanding of the art and history here. There's a whole cadre of artists here."

The exhibit is also a chance to see a lesser-used highway in a new light, along with the beauty of the weathered objects that haphazardly litter its sides.

"I discovered how rural this part of South Carolina really is," Tierney said. "You don't have to go too far from Hilton Head Island to see the rural parts of the South."

Follow reporter Erin Shaw at Shaw.