Jonathan Green always wanted to attend Robert Smalls School for high school and was initially resistant to attend Beaufort High School.
But he ran track and participated in 4-H at Beaufort High and forged relationships he has carried as an artist more than 40 years. Green was recognized Friday with the Pat Conroy Palmetto Achievement Award, the top honor at the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce's Civitas Awards.
At the gala in the Dataw Island ballroom, Green recalled his roots, including being taught fifth-grade art by current Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray.
"I love all of you," said Green, whose art is acclaimed for its color and depiction of Southern black heritage and Gullah culture. "I always will."
Green was introduced by the award's namesake, Beaufort author Conroy, who told chamber members he never wants to hear another person say they moved to the area because of his books.
In a short, handwritten speech, Conroy called Green the best artist from the area and "an artist who glorified the Lowcountry in every way I only wish to."
The event recognized the top area business leaders over dinner and cocktails.
Outgoing USC Beaufort chancellor Jane Upshaw was given the Lifetime of Leadership Award. She is credited with helping launch the Hilton Head Gateway campus and growing the school into a baccalaureate-granting school with 19 degree programs.
Beaufort County School District's teachers of the year -- including Beaufort County Teacher of the Year Amy Simmons of Whale Branch Middle School -- also were recognized.
Green and Conroy were the headliners.
Before dinner, Green said he appreciated the recognition but that he feels people forget an artist needs his studio and that his time commitments often keep him from his work in downtown Charleston.
But Green also wants to educate and foster conversation.
He was born and raised in Gardens Corner and was in Beaufort recently to speak at the Original Gullah Festival.
Green said he gives a third of his income to museums, schools and other causes. He pointed to Conroy, who wrote the forward to Green's book about Gullah images, as another artist who gives freely.
In addition to his art, Green is president of the Lowcountry Rice Culture Project, which seeks to create an open dialogue about the role of rice cultivation in building the current Lowcountry culture and to foster mutual respect between those with black shame and white guilt, Green said.
Conroy talked about Beaufort's history related to race and about how things have changed since he arrived here before integration.
Among the criteria for his award is that the person has made a significant impact on Beaufort and the Lowcountry and has sustained excellence in their craft. Green's work has been featured in galleries nationally and internationally.
He is known for his color and human figures in rural and urban settings and is identified by critics as "one of the most important painters of the Southern experience," according to Green's website.
Green recognized by name those here with whom he remains closely tied.
"Those are the people that have affected me," he said. "They still affect me today."
Civitas Awards winners:
- Tourism Leadership - Cuthbert House Inn
Follow reporter Stephen Fastenau at twitter.com/IPBG_Stephen.