Doctuh Buzzard: How language brings him to life
"Doctuh' Buzzard's Hoodoo Awakening" -- an exhibit now running at the Beaufort History Museum -- is as colorful and enriching as it is thought-provoking and unsettling.
Part art installation and part cultural experience, the exhibit is the brainchild of artist couple Bernice and Andy Tate.
Though small, "Hoodoo Awakening" works on a whole to create a mood of intrigue and foreboding while providing a bit of social context for the world in which the mysterious art was practiced.
Not to be confused with voodoo, hoodoo blends elements of Christianity with herbal medicine and the supernatural.
Visitors stepping into the one-room exhibit will immediately notice the apothecary-like collection of elixir bottles selling everything from hex oil to "goofer" (graveyard) dust as well as Bernice Tate's evocative mixed-media sculptures.
The Tates -- who are accustomed to working in both large and small spaces -- made excellent use of the space, from the handmade wax candles dripping from the stair banister to the stick and Spanish moss mobiles floating from the ceiling.
Everywhere one turns, bits of the natural world mixed with elements suggesting the supernatural -- a hoodoo doll, a painted chicken foot -- work to create a sense that there are, indeed, forces at work here.
Of course, you may have to bring a willing suspension of disbelief, as I did, to get the most out of the fantastical parts of the exhibit, but the exhibit on the whole provided a great deal of the heavy lifting where that is concerned.
In fact, overall, the exhibit feels both intimate and otherworldly, creating an odd range of emotions as one moves from folk art pieces meant to be fun or intriguing to those depicting the atrocities of the slave trade.
In addition, you cannot help but come away with the feeling that a great deal more about hoodoo and the culture surrounding the practice remain hidden.
Case in point: Nowhere in the exhibit do you ever see the actual face of Doctuh' Buzzard, the area's longtime root doctor who died in 1947.
Only the image of a shadowy figure, repeated throughout the installation, can be seen suggesting that Doctuh' Buzzard or perhaps the idea of Doctuh' Buzzard, like an all-knowing, all-seeing force, is a bit more larger than life than the man himself.
Those looking for a textbook history of Doctuh' Buzzard or a historical account of hoodoo as it relates to the Gullah culture should look elsewhere.
While an exhibit pamphlet does provide additional background in these areas, the exhibit is an artistic interpretation and one done with a great deal of planning and execution down to the creation of its individual elements.
As someone interested in folk art, Gullah history and Coffin Point stories, I would liked to have seen more of the Tates' work, which is a credit to their artistry and skill in creating a distinctive mood.
Because, unlike the old adage "less is more," sometimes, well, more is more.
If You Go
"Doctuh' Buzzard's Hoodoo Awakening" runs through Oct. 31 at the Beaufort History Museum, in The Arsenal at 713 Craven St. Admission is $5 per person and $4 for seniors. Children younger than 10 and active military and their families are admitted free. For more information, call 843-379-3079 or visit www.beauforthistorymuseum.com.
Follow reporter Mindy Lucas at twitter.com/MindyatIPBG.
- New hoodoo exhibit in Beaufort to fascinate, spark the imagination, Sept. 24
- Late hoodoo-practicing Beaufort County sheriff inspires grandson's novel, April 26
- 'Coffin Point' TV series planned about hoodoo-practicing sheriff J.E. McTeer, April 3