It might not be an art mecca a la Paris or New York, but South Carolina has an underestimated art history worth sharing and celebrating, says Paul Matheny, the chief curator of art at the S.C. State Museum.
Art Day at the State Museum on Saturday showcased South Carolina artists such as Jenkinsville’s Herman Thompson, who has spent at least the past two years working wire clothes hangers into a model of an old Western village that the museum plans to display in a future exhibit.
“Everybody has a talent,” Thompson said. “You share your talent with other people to enlighten their lives.”
Another of Thompson’s artworks, a metal train — featuring a spatula and an aerosol can, among other materials — sits in storage among troves of other South Carolina art treasures the State Museum holds in its collection. As part of Art Day, visitors got to see what is on exhibit as well as what’s kept behind the walls in the museum’s collection.
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“A lot of stuff has happened throughout the history of South Carolina, so art kind of reflects the history and tells the stories of the people and artists that are here,” Matheny said.
Among the South Carolina artists whose stories rest in the artworks kept in the vaults:
A self-taught artist who owned construction and concrete businesses, Carson had no interest in selling his artwork. Rather, he created for his own enjoyment.
Carson built a “Concrete City” in his Orangeburg backyard, the statues from which are now housed at the museum. The artist enjoyed world traveling, and many of his pieces were inspired by South American culture, in particular, Matheny said.
The first artwork Carson donated to the State Museum was a painted wood carving, “Fantasy,” in 1985. But, Matheny said, “he didn’t like getting rid of his own work so ... he recreated it” for himself.
Courtright was born in Sumter in the 1920s then moved to New York and Europe later in his life.
“Being in New York during a very exciting time period in the art world influenced his work,” Matheny said. “He just made amazing things for people to appreciate and see.”
The State Museum is home to the last two artworks Courtright created before his death in 2012. The museum commissioned Courtright to create a pair of pieces for its recent exhibit “Building a Universe.” One of them is based on a series of moon collages he made in the 1980s.
Elizabeth O’Neill Verner
Verner was an artist and preservationist at the forefront of the Charleston Renaissance in the early 1900s.
“Artists realized there was a beautiful landscape around them, and they also banded together to protect the cultural resources in the Lowcountry by documenting them,” Matheny said.
Verner was a founding member of the Charleston Etchers Club, as part of which artists created and sold engravings and prints for less than their paintings.