Leading the way for female-led art organizations
Neema Fine Art Gallery
Neema Fine Art Gallery is prominently located at 3 Broad Street, in Charleston’s French Quarter, and serves as a venue for original works by African American artists around the state. Meisha Johnson—who can often be seen with her four-year-old daughter, Sabina, in tow—is the owner of Neema, which opened in 2019. Featured artists at Neema include those who thrive in rural and hidden communities, and others from South Carolina’s growing urban areas. April Harrison is a Greenville artist who began painting late in her life, following the death of her mother. The art is playful, redemptive, and therapeutic. It’s unabashedly about things of the heart – relationships, love and family. Harrison dreamed of being an illustrator early in her career, and now, at 64, her first book is being released by Random House.
Natalie Daise is a self-taught artist from New York now living in the coastal town of Beaufort. Her career has been defined by her advocacy of Gullah heritage preservation. Highlights of her work include Collard Queen, which depicts a strong woman, tailored in leafy greens, against a gold backdrop.
Rosa and Winton Eugene are a self-taught married team from Cowpens who make pottery. Their vases at Neema feature birds given detail enough to identify the species. Their 30-year career was recognized in 2018 by the McKissick Museum, in Columbia, with a major retrospective.
Sweetgrass basket demonstrations and information sessions take place each Thursday at Neema, with a rotating group of women who are masters of their craft.
The Gibbes Museum of Art
The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston has worked to expand its collection of art by African Americans, and that effort is displayed in New Acquisitions Featuring Works by African American Artists, on view until June 16. “
In the last 10 years, we have been proud to have doubled the number of works by African American artists and look forward to continuing to build our collection to reflect Charleston’s diverse population,” says Angela Mack, Executive Director and Chief Curator. Concurrent with Spoleto this year, the Gibbes will be displaying Black Refractions: Highlights from The Studio Museum in Harlem. The exhibit includes the work of more than 50 artists from the 1920s to the present, many with deep ties to the American South.
The Johnson Collection
The Gibbes Museum of Art welcomes traveling exhibitions from around the world. But one of the most exciting collections to be featured at the museum in the coming months hails from the Upstate city of Spartanburg. The Johnson Collection’s Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists opens in January 2020.
The Johnson Collection is one of the premier collections of art in the Southeast. A uniquely situated, private enterprise run by a husband-and-wife team, the collection began with a regional focus but has expanded to include works by major international artists and is recognized by curators of major art institutions far beyond the Palmetto State. The Johnsons seek to bring their vast personal collection to the public and use their patronage to bring South Carolina artists the scholarly attention they deserve. They send their traveling exhibitions to museums around the country free of charge, thanks to the Johnsons’ vision.
Brookgreen Gardens and the Pee Dee
Brookgreen Gardens, near Myrtle Beach, has been named one of the top 10 gardens in America by TripAdvisor. It is also a wonderful place to see figurative sculpture. Brookgreen is a refuge from development, with more than 9,000 acres in conservation, from the beach to the Waccamaw River. Art and nature are inherently intertwined at Brookgreen Gardens.
Another destination on the coastal plain is Lake City, in the Pee Dee region of the state. Businesswoman Darla Moore, with an exuberant style, has created a garden paradise she shares with the public at Moore Farms Botanical Garden. The nine-day annual festival, ArtFields, takes place at venues throughout the city’s historic downtown. Programming continues throughout the year, with exhibitions in June, 2019 in two local gallery spaces, Jones-Carter Gallery and TRAX Visual Art Center.
Gullah Geechee Heritage
Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission is designated a National Heritage Area, a federal program to promote education, stewardship, sustainable economic growth, and other measures to protect the cultural and natural resources of the region.
Executive Director Heather Hodges began her career as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., where she was recognized by Georgetown Law School as a Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow, awarded to lawyers committed to women’s rights. She’s also a photographer and documentary filmmaker who studies music and dance culture in many African, Afro-Latino and Hispanic countries, and the regional traditions found in the American South from Texas to Georgia. The Commission has produced three documentary films and hosts a mobile film festival. Hodges says: “Despite the presence of their ancestors in this country since the late 1600’s, the Gullah Geechee people have rarely been depicted on film or in popular culture. They are keen to both have their stories told and to see representations of their important culture.”
Gullah Geechee cultural festivals taking place this summer include Daufuskie Days (June 22, 2019) and Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival (July 13, 2019). Daufuskie Days showcases those “who have lived on Daufuskie Island for decades and who love sharing their personal stories of growing up Gullah Geechee,” Hodges says. Organizations such as the Gullah Geechee Corridor are doing important work documenting culture and arts that other institutions have historically neglected.
Columbia Museum of Art
It’s a balancing act for many museums: They seek to bring notable work from around the world to local and regional audiences while serving as a platform to elevate the artistry and traditions of the communities they serve. The permanent collection is one way that institutions are patrons to local artists. The Columbia Museum of Art recently reinstalled its permanent collections, with a strong focus on women and artists of color. Meanwhile, curator Catherine Walworth is excited about bringing the work of Mimi Kato, a Japanese-born artist currently residing in Cleveland, to the state’s capital city. The exhibit will feature works from a new series titled Wild Corporation, which includes a Japanese language tour with the artist on opening day. On the horizon in 2020 are major exhibitions of African American art and contemporary Indian art.
The arts are thriving in South Carolina. The Palmetto State boasts original and ambitious talent and is fortunate to
be home to museums and galleries that foster homegrown art while showcasing impressive traveling exhibits. For more
information visit DiscoverSouthCarolina.com.