In this era of artists being targeted digitally and ballistically from Hollywood to Paris, sunny little Beaufort seems even more of a haven for the bohemian creative class. I use the term "bohemian" to refer to people who make do with little, and then make more, like colonists figuring out how to make oyster shell concrete for buildings that last 300 years. The "little" of Beaufort goes a long way.
Artist and poet Robyn Hood Black makes "artsy letters" out of many little objects -- typewriter keys, watch parts, snips of texts from old books, skeleton keys from England. "I'm celebrating the literary with the arts," she said. In other words, literary art with a vintage vibe.
Black and her husband moved to Beaufort last year from Georgia, and I met her when Kami Kinard had a meet and greet in her art-filled home. Like Black, Kinard is a children's author: "Wolves," by Black, and "The Boy Project," by Kinard, among many other publications.
"I looked for other writers in the area through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators," Black said. "I feel very blessed to have met her; we speak the same children's lit language."
Black also established her studio on Bay Street in 2014. It is primarily her workspace, with public hours during events such as downtown's First Fridays. She is relieved to be settled in, after a shoulder injury delay. Now she is "eager to get back to work, more so than usual after the New Year." She had "not ever before lost the ability to make art," and missed out on some good carving and printmaking time.
Her front door is at 811 Bay St., between M and Indigo Gallery, and up a flight of stairs that show off the 19th century building, making her creative space one of the new and few chances to be on upper level Bay Street.
Black is happy with her studio and with Beaufort. "I love it," she said. "Yesterday, I went to the river, sat in a swing and sketched. I popped into Coastal Art Supply and met some other artists, ducked into some shops and met the owners. I love the friendliness and find the environment inspiring. It's a great place for an artist. Beaufort has a different energy from any other place I've lived. Slowing down is a healthier way to live."
She pointed out that even tourists walk more slowly here, so they can take it all in, and then cited one of her favorite aphorisms: All creativity begins with noticing.
Black grew up in Florida, "with the same bright skies and Spanish moss and quality of light." She chose her studio because of the tall windows and built-in cabinets. She walks to work sometimes because then "I'm in a better frame of mind," particularly to notice the changing tides and the man on a bicycle, towing his pooch while keeping an eye out for found objects suitable for reartifying.
Her studio is chock-full and high-contrast. She uses a lot of black and metal, from matte board to ink, from frames to collage. Every thoughtfully made bookmark, print and typewriter-button ring has a striking outline while being cozily kitsch. Black is always in style (double-entendre intended) and I especially appreciate her decorative use of worn and rusty metal, an element that suits Beaufort's history and work ethic.
Carving and printmaking are her 2015 goals, now that she's back in shape with the help of ice packs. Working with your hands is good therapy, after all. She's illustrating her collection of poems for kids (she has also been published in multiple anthologies) and plans more locally themed work for her kiosk in Fordham Market, particularly mixed-media pieces incorporating 1800s texts about the sea, altered to reveal her own poetry.
"It's like black-out poetry," she explained, wherein the artist blacks out certain words to leave a different message. "But I prefer an acrylic wash so you can see the original version, the story behind the object, and think about the people who read it in the hundred years before. Beaufort has a crazy, wonderful literary heritage, which is why I went down this path with my art business."
Black is a writer who has never been able to give up art, and a wonderful indication that Beaufort's literary history is still growing. Beaufort's history includes Somerset Maugham, Ann Head, Zora Neale Hurston, Thomas Wentworth Higginson and even Clark Gable once (he signed plenty of autographs, doesn't that count?) -- that scribbling you hear is the sound of freedom.
Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives and writes in Beaufort.