Perhaps it was all the good news about the economy or perhaps it was because the sun was shining after a week of gray rain, but on the Friday following Christmas, Bay Street in Beaufort was bustling. Tourists were smiling and shopping; families lounged in waterfront park where a gaggle of boys tossed a football; all the galleries and studios had their doors open; and artists were working on their ideas and designs for a creative 2015.
Hank Herring is the new owner of Salt Gallery. His plans are a grand reopening at the First Friday event in February and a mission of "sustainable, green, quality art. It's got to be able to survive," he said. He and his artists are organizing classes, including impromptu hands-on art experiences for customers, and spoken word open mic nights, which I am enthusiastic about because the defunct Poetry & Pancakes series was one of the best art event-performances I've been to in Beaufort in the past decade.
"Artists need to get out and promote themselves," Herring said. "They need to show up and engage." Loudly, please.
Across the street inside Thibaut Gallery, Trevor Foster is now offering his popular clay classes, both hand-building and wheel-throwing. Two blocks up at the Beaufort Art Association, I was greeted by "Two Old Goats" by Arla Crumlick Wible. The painting is a close up of a good nuzzle. I have long admired the variety and humor of Wible's work. Sandy Dimke, a photographer, gave me a quick tour of the art association's ideas: Their featured artist receptions will now coincide with First Fridays as well, and they're transforming their boutique space into a dedicated display area for artists who want a whole wall for their work, rather than the lovely patchwork mix of the main gallery. This is a good strategy, a way to read an artist like a story, page after canvas after page.
Dimke is planning another photography book about the cats of Beaufort. She volunteers at Tabby House, the county's shelter for cats at Beaufort Town Center, and is seeking stories and people and felines for her lens.
Lately at BAA I've noticed the work of Neil Jansen, who works in the folk art genre, the flattened, iconic imagery of which looks like tall tales stitched onto a quilt then printed to a canvas. Out on St. Helena Island, Penn Center and The Red Piano Too have announced a new folk arts festival in March.
Wible's studio is right around the corner on West Street, upstairs in the Atelier on Bay with 10 other artists' studios. Painter Mary Segars is being disciplined about her idea for 2015: painting the people of Mozambique.
"I'd love to do it right now, devote all of my time," she said. She visited her son there while he was working in the Peace Corps. But, she's also concentrating on preparing for a big show in Naples, Fla., juggling that old conundrum of producing what sells versus painting what she wants. Eventually there will be a Mozambique show, and perhaps even a talk from her son who's now based in Charleston.
Lynn Brown was docenting that Monday, taking time from her studio to greet visitors to the expansive Atelier, some of whom she recognized from last year. Brown also has work at The Charles Street Gallery, where she recently hung a large piece, a fantastical portrait she calls "Dot." She was inspired by a photo of a pair of women in the same polka dot dress. "One was pretty and one was so unattractive, they shouldn't have worn the same dress," she laughed.
While painting, she "got this tweak that the dots should be coming off," and they do, floating with the painted woman's hair into the wind, "a transformed dot, perhaps that's where I'm going in 2015," she said.
The Atelier's newest artist is photographer Corey Gibson, whose studio I found on the way to Sandra Baggette's. Baggette's studio overlooks Bay Street and the sun was pouring in, glinting off the gold frames and sparking the thousands of petals and buds and leaves she's painted. The air was warm with the scent of chocolate and a potted corn plant in bloom. Baggette is decidedly a painter of flowers, of big bouquets and the flora that grow well and wildly in the Lowcountry. Facing the lush, thematic dominance of her studio, I have to admit that pairing pattern and classics with change and newness is a very good way to welcome the new year.
Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives and writes in Beaufort.