Beaufort County was recently ranked the healthiest in South Carolina, beating out even Charleston, where yoga pants are more numerous than fire ants.
In Beaufort, the green spaces and dragonfly populations are the anti-canaries in the coal mine, and some artists perch here for inspiration and healing. Cynthia Zeiss does so by working with silk.
Zeiss's work can be found at the Beaufort Art Association and the Charles Street Gallery, where one of her pieces is a daffodil from Georgia O'Keefe's garden entitled "Shibumi." The Japanese concept refers to simple, unobtrusive beauty.
Her home on Lady's Island contains an art collection including Robert Rauschenberg, the environmental activist painter; Betsy Chaffin, the artist who helped start the green preserve known as Spring Island; and Joan Templer, the Beaufort-based international artist who puts the atmosphere on canvas.
These surroundings enable Zeiss to create her art and her health everyday. Her determination is visible in her gait -- over the years I have noticed her and husband Ralph (the newly elected president of BAA and a former gallery owner) stride into gallery shows like two loblolly pines freed from their marshside forest.
Zeiss's genre is Shibori, a traditional Japanese process that combines the two-dimensional and three-dimensional.
"What I like is you get the impression of stained glass," she said about her luminescent work. "At the fashion shows at the Silk Painters International conferences," which she attends in Santa Fe, "the women look like butterflies."
Her prowess with silk stems from her experience with watercolors, "I'm used to the control," she said, "although in silk you can't correct mistakes." She uses the Serti technique to outline the design with water-based resists. She boils down rice water, brews her own indigo, and steams the textiles to set the colors.
Zeiss took up art following a career in medical administration and a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which affects the central nervous system.
"Working for five doctors is very stressful," she said in her understated way. "I was holding onto the walls to walk. This was a hard time in my life. I was depressed because I couldn't do what I was used to doing. I was so down I decided that I had to make it a positive instead of a negative and find what I could do."
One of those "do-able" things was moving to Beaufort fourteen years ago, and taking a watercolor class at Sun City.
Now she's a part of the Fiber Artists of Beaufort, and her studio stretches from an upstairs room full of fluttering silks-in-progress, to a steam press in the garage, carefully covered when not in use.
"When I'm working, I totally forget I have anything wrong with me. The time when I'm not thinking about it is a stress reliever," she explained.
In this era of advances in medicine, technology and reform, Zeiss has noted better MS medicines and multidisciplinary approaches that heal the whole body -- she is not only a nervous system. She wishes, however, for more reform relating to long-term care.
On the day we talked in her studio, she was working on a long stretch of butterflies, just roughed in. She's creating three wall hangings, Spring, Summer and Fall: "I don't like winter," she said.
In her June-July show at BAA, she's sharing the spotlight with Susan Ellzey and is even deriving her fiber colors from Ellzey's earthy, fiery raku process.
"I thought our pieces would look good together," Zeiss said simply.
As she gave me an overview of burn-out techniques and momme weights and eye droppers and sun printing, her capacity for experimentation was apparent, perhaps manifesting from her partnerships with doctors who, when you boil down their discipline like rice water, are experimenting as well.
Individuality, though, are the intentions.
"I make one of a kind scarves and silk paintings," Zeiss explained plainly and calmly. "I don't do prints. I want the person to have something original. That's important to me. I work everyday, and stop at five o'clock. That's when Ralph and I have a glass of wine and connect again," - another simple technique for artist, heal thyself.
Lisa Annelouise Rentz lives in Beaufort.