Inspiration. It can come from anywhere.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lloyd Wainscott
The artist may find themselves transfixed with the subtle curve of the water as it snakes through tall marsh grasses. The musician may hear a rumble of thunder, or the croaking of frogs and turn it into a symphony. Its sources are so multi-faceted and so elusive that its little wonder the Greek chalked up such epiphanies to the supernatural.
But muses are real. They live all around us. And in the Lowcountry, we seem to have an abundance. Somehow this tiny area, comprising a lush visitor-friendly island and a sleepy river town, has built its reputation for the wide cast of artistic characters it has managed to attract. From painters to performers, they’ve found their way here and made the Lowcountry their muse.
Maybe it’s the relaxed pace; maybe it’s the chance to create in a place far removed both geographically and culturally from the effete art world. Then again, maybe it’s something much simpler.
“Personally, it has always been my life’s dream to be an artist who lives at the beach,” said local artist Amos Hummell. “So here I am, livin’ the dream. I’d bet I’m not alone on that count.”
Hummell’s boldly colorful, unapologetically quirky art has long infused the Lowcountry’s art scene with a high-voltage jolt of fun that’s often missing from the usual lineup of serene open-air landscapes. Hummell is wholly original, a strong advocate for our area’s art scene and no, he is not alone in wanting to be an artist who lives at the beach.
“Yes, it’s an alluring place. But it’s also a place that fosters the arts,” said local theater legend Don Hite. Celebrated on Broadway and on Hilton Head Island, Hite parlayed a long career alongside some of the stage’s biggest names into a second act passing on his wealth of knowledge to the next generation. “The career that I’ve had is because of a place like Hilton Head that has given me a background and a verve and this life,” Hite said.
The Lowcountry does provide a singularly nurturing environment for both the arts and the artists. As Hite pointed out, ours was one of the few places in the country in which the orchestra didn’t fold during the economic downturn. Thanks to the support of locals, it not only survived, it thrived. And the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra is just one of the many arts organizations in our area.
“We are very fortunate to have the Arts Center (of Coastal Carolina) that puts something on that stage year-round that people from all areas of interest get to see,” added Hite. “What other place in the world is there where a 370-seat theater can bring in a Tony Award winning actor like Leslie Odom? That’s rare.”
That rich support doesn’t just extend to the arts organizations that have thrived in our area.
“I think people in the Lowcountry are willing to support not only art but the lives of the artists themselves,” said Michele Roldan-Shaw, an artist based in Bluffton (inasmuch as a self-professed rambler is based anywhere). “I moved to Bluffton 13 years ago as a complete unknown, and while building my career as a writer and self-taught artist I found that people appreciated the artistic lifestyle as much as the art itself. Not only did they buy and commission my paintings, they also fed me, took me under their wing, shared studio space and supplies, hired me to teach their children art – so many direct and tangible forms of support.”
That patronage can often be just as critical as the inspiration an artist can draw from the beautiful surroundings of the Lowcountry. Bluffton-based Kelly Logan Graham has benefited tremendously from both. His mesmerizing work pulls clear inspiration from the geography of the Lowcountry, both its forms and its colors. That work has come to define Bluffton, making it an unspoken requirement that every new business or restaurant contain at least one Graham original. In an area where business is booming, it’s kept Graham very busy.
“The tidal flow of the rivers that surround create a constantly changing and dramatic backdrop for the Lowcountry. That ebb and flow is what inspires me about painting outdoors,” he said. “The local art scene and the market are growing rapidly. New home sales drive a need for fresh art!”
In the end, the Lowcountry offers somewhat of a perfect storm for incubating artistic talent. The natural beauty inherent to our area, the thing that brought us all here, indulges with inspiration. Our appreciation for art makes it possible for an artist to earn a living at their craft. Beyond that, there’s just some kind of X-Factor that makes this place such a wonderland for artists.
“Without a vibrant arts fabric in a community, you’re bland,” Hite said. “And we’re as bright and colorful as it gets.”