Whatever he sees in the stick, however the stick speaks to him, that’s how Thomas Williams carves the stick.
This one is a rabbit, that one a loggerhead turtle, another a coiling snake – no two of them alike.
Williams, from the Lowcountry town of McClellanville, has carved intricate canes and walking sticks for nearly three decades. He was taught by his older brother, who was taught by his father, who was taught by his father, carrying on a tradition passed down from plantation slaves, Williams said.
“It was in my family for all these years. And I love what I do,” he said.
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Williams was among dozens of artists and vendors at Historic Columbia’s annual Jubilee: Festival of Heritage celebrating traditional African-American culture Saturday at the historic Mann-Simons Site.
The character of each of Williams’ sticks comes from the details in its twisted roots, which he carefully digs from the ground.
Similarly, so does the character of African-American culture, said Tariq Mix, a Columbia painter who was among the festival’s artists.
“The roots are the strongest part,” Mix said. “The roots are your history, the nourishment, all the stuff that goes into building that foundation. ... Somehow, some way, we’re always going to be connected to our ancestors.”
Mix painted live from the Jubilee festival. A warmly colored, soulfully fluid picture of an African-American woman emerged on his canvas, inspired, he said, by the energy around him.
“It has, of course, that Afro-centric feel to it, but more of a natural, instrumental feel to it as well,” Mix said. “I like all my paintings to move, to have energy. So they’re vibrant in many ways.”
On the nearby porch of the Mann-Simons cottage, where former slaves had been the first generation to own the property in the mid-1800s, Kitty Evans channeled the curative energy of Celia Mann, a midwife in her lifetime, and of generations of slaves who passed on traditions of natural healing.
“Slaves knew a lot about their medicines,” said Evans, who lives in Columbia. “But a lot of the doctors here thought they were a bunch of quacks.”
She shared traditional remedies that included coal wrapped in a cloth to heal chest pain, sassafras tea to cleanse the blood and collard leaves laid on a forehead to lower a fever.
On a table scattered with natural healing elements, Evans also kept a tin with two small rocks she had taken years ago from a section of the Underground Railroad she had stood on near the Yadkin River in North Carolina. A wide-traveling storyteller and a former teacher, Evans uses all the tokens to share her proud heritage.
“It’s more than just words in a (history) book,” she said.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.