Blending Vibrant Roots
by Michael L. Sanz Photography by Christian Lee
Diane Dunham Britton
Blending Vibrant Roots
Artists are instruments of inspiration and passion. For some, the creative juices fire up because of the focus on past events, dreams, vision, concrete stuff or abstract ideas. Diane Britton Dunham is inspired by her research and understanding of her family genealogy. Her mother’s Louisiana Creole and father’s South Carolina Gullah lineage crossed paths when the sons of Carolina landowners brought their rice growing skills to the Deep South. Diane spent several years studying the commonality woven between the culture of the isolated coastal Gullah communities and the widespread Creole populations. The end results are vibrant and vivid paintings telling a story of Diane’s diversified, yet, homogenous roots.
Diane arrived in Beaufort in 1980 via Cleveland, working as an accountant. Her true point of passion was already art. She fed that desire to be creative by doing graphic art for organizations before “Clip Art.” During those early years in the Lowcountry there were few venues for the expression of Gullah art, music, folklore and cuisine. Showings were limited to the Red Piano Too on St. Helena Island, the Gullah Festival, and an occasional classroom that was celebrating Black History Month. However, Diane, a self-trained artist, was immersing herself within the art community, mingling with other talented Gullah artists, and co-organizing a Gullah/African American artists’ exposure group with Arianne King Comer, a famous indigo batik artist. They would find places to lease or borrow to show art works, such as the basement of the armory.
The recognition of Gullah heritage really took off in 1986 with the launch of the first annual Gullah Festival of South Carolina. This past Memorial Day was the 30th anniversary of the annual celebration. This festival has been the key event allowing artists, musicians and craftsmen the opportunity to solidify the Gullah culture as a significant component of South Carolina and Georgia history. Diane has been a participant for most of this 30-year showcase telling the African Gullah story.
Every person has patterns or behaviors that become the fingerprint of their personality. For years, Diane has breathed life into her canvas between the hours of 10 p.m. and sunrise! She has two points of explanation. When Diane arrived in Beaufort, she worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. She figures that her circadian cycle is out of whack and that’s just the way it goes. After that response she reflected a little. Then I think we got the real answer. Diane is a Gullah historian with a deep spiritual foundation. Through her research she has drawn these conclusions. “Midnight is when there is the greatest balance of good and evil. I’m very possessive of those night hours. It’s at this point that I am inspired, that I plug in, and I draw from universal spirituality. It pushes me to the next level. I’ll get going at 10:00 and before I know it, the rooster is crowing!”
Passionate people willing to take chances face highs and lows on this path we call life. Diane has struggled through several medical challenges. She faced three life-threatening battles, which she almost lost. Fortunately, Diane persevered digging deep daily to “give thanks and have faith.” Meditation, prayer and the support of her family and friends carried her through to recovery in all three circumstances. Despite the constant meddling of health issues, Diane had to find a way to stay afloat. It was very difficult to maintain an inventory, so she drove herself into technology, selling prints online. She acknowledges that she couldn’t have recovered without the loving support of her husband, Phillip E. Griffin. He is an accomplished musician and a third generation owner of Maude’s Cab Company.
Diane’s artistic creations have been celebrated for many years. Her expectations are high that there are many more celebrations to come. Her work has appeared in national print media such as Black Enterprise and Southern Living. Her artistic talent also blazed the cover of Pink Magazine in 2007. She has been recognized as a featured artist in dozens of galleries including the Penn Center’s 1862 Circle Gala, Houston Children’s Museum, Walter Greer Art Gallery, Gullah Festival, and the Chuma African American Art Gallery. She also shares her steadfast passion for art as an instructor at the historic Mather Academy.
Diane is looking towards an extremely busy and exciting summer. She will be introducing a private exhibit at the York W. Bailey Museum in the Penn Center, St. Helena Island. The grand opening is July 8th, with the exhibit running through October 29. The exhibit is titled “Water’s Edge.” Put this big day on your calendar and join Diane. She is working feverishly to present to the public a beautiful blend of striking color, splendid stories, cultural interpretation and captive historical moments.
Seven Facts About Diane:
> She writes short stories.
> She is an ordained minister.
> She participated in the Miss Black Teen Pageant.
> She is a talented fashion designer and attended fashion design school.
> She sang in her church gospel choir. She also played bass guitar in a rock band.
> She was officially a “hippie,” involved in protests in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
> She designs virtual 3D simulated environments for education and gaming.