Beaufort News

Local Life: Studio space as eclectic as their artists

Elbow room for elbow grease, that's what studios are for artists -- space dedicated to creative work.

A studio can be a two-car garage, such as Steve Johnson's, where he paints and draws, or a studio can be like Richard Darby's computer, with kilobytes of data ready to be seen as vibrant photography.

I've had the opportunity to visit artists in their studios from those with high-ceilings on Spring Island to ones with oil paints on the carpets in Myrtle Beach and sewing rooms in Pigeon Point. These work spaces are delightfully functional; full of tools, lidded containers, piles of sketches and stacks of crinkled research notebooks; and sometimes there are empty spots. When you visit a studio, note the cleared-off tables, the big blank patient wall, the waiting easel. University of South Carolina Beaufort's art studio centers around a massive table; so does Pat Willcox as she sews in her studio on Port Republic Street.

Artists like a room for what it is -- a shelter for their ideas. Out on St. Helena Island, Victoria Smalls (whose work is featured at the Red Piano right now) explains that her home studio cocoons her with "artwork of other artists I love, soft music, candles and plants." Deanna Bowdish's studio is the spacious loft within The Gallery, and her works in progress spill down the stairs to the main floor, a reminder to shoppers of the meticulous creative process.

Across the street, Lana Hefner at the Bay Street Gallery has expanded upstairs with friends for a communal creation space that includes Shelly Kohli and her detailed mandalas. It's especially lovely that the old Silver Slipper Dance Hall on Green Street is now a dance studio. Studio-cottages throughout downtown Beaufort circle the Charles Street Gallery, where Jim Rothnie's "Studio" portrait hangs and woodworker Sonny Phillips can be found in the woodshop out back creating piles of fragrant sawdust and beautiful furniture.

The slick aroma of oil paints from Rebecca Davenport's studio drift out to the street. And within the 12,000 square feet of ARTworks, there's a row of artists working in their own viewable studios, while the arts council staffers meet with artists who want studio space, too, as well as the creative growth that comes with it.

Here's an idea: Over at 1915 Duke St., there's a little 1890s cottage that's available for free -- if you move it, that is -- from the Historic Beaufort Foundation. What if it was moved, with its tin roof and little porch (which would probably have to be rebuilt), one block up, to the community garden right there at Bladen and Duke Streets? Re-use the cottage as a studio, a space for people to wire topiaries or craft whirligigs or take a break from painting en plein air. The structure could be stabilized, like the McGrath-Scheper house on North Street, and left partially un-enclosed, like a shelter on the Appalachian Trail. On Hilton Head Island, the Gullah Museum is working on a similar project. Eventually, the cottage (the "Studio for Hands-on Ideas" perhaps? Or maybe "the Studio of Dirt-Under-Your Fingernails & Paint-in-Your-Cuticles?") could be "greened" up even more with a solar panel.

The Third Ward of Houston in Texas got famous -- and, more importantly, improved quality of life for residents -- by rehabilitating old homes for art experiences now. Just one idea to enjoy until we see how it leads to the next.