The Beautiful Blondes of Beaufort
Mother and daughter are both beautiful and blonde. They share the same last name. They are Southern and impeccably charming. They are smart. After that, the similarities begin to fade. I, (like most of the world) truly love Gone with the Wind, not least because it gives non-southerners a short-hand for describing the complexity of Southern women. To say that Irene (Mother Simons) is more Melanie and Pinckney (Daughter Simons) is a blonder, softer Scarlett-well, how much clearer could I be?
On a brilliant October day, I walked into the I. Pinckney Simons Gallery located on historic Bay Street, a short walk from Carteret Street in downtown Beaufort. The beautiful space houses a collection of fine original art, jewelry and furniture by award-winning artists. The gallery services patrons world-wide and includes the South Carolina State House, Governor's Mansion and Supreme Court Building on their client list.
I am greeted by Pinckney, an exuberant young woman in brown leather shorts, donning deep chocolate fingernail polish and sexy sandals. She hands me a typed fact sheet about the gallery and gives a brief history as we walk around. After her mother and father married in 1976, they opened the original gallery in Anderson, SC in 1979. They later moved to Columbia and opened a larger gallery in 1983, and then this second gallery in Beaufort in 2001. Pinckney's parents wanted to be integrated into the community. Irene-Pinckney's mother-founded the Guild of Galleries and instituted the Fall Art Walk, which has led to Beaufort being chosen one of the 20 Best Art Towns in America. In 2008, the galleries were consolidated and the Columbia location closed.
Pinckney's father, Rick Simons, Jr., died unexpectedly in August of 2012. By October, 2012 Pinckney had left her home and job in Charleston, SC and moved back to Beaufort to run the gallery.
While Pinckney and I are talking, Irene is occupied with clients. Then one of the 32 artists represented by the gallery-Lane Palmisano-carries in a large, dreamy landscape in oils on canvas, not yet dry. It is set outside for everyone to examine and admire. Next comes artist Chris Stanley to show Irene and Pinckney her latest original jewelry creations. Mother and daughter are ebullient about both artists' work. The space is filled with dynamic energy.
During a lull, Irene joins Pinckney and we sit down together. Irene is elegantly coiffed and tailored, soft-spoken and gracious. Both women acknowledge their mother-daughter business partnership came out of a devastating family tragedy and is atypical in many ways. At the time, their thoughts were to somehow get through their grief and keep the business running. Their shared vision was a deep commitment to family and maintaining Rick Jr.'s legacy. They would have to work out the details as they went along.
This past October marked the year anniversary of Pinckney's return. Pinckney says, "After one month of being here, I knew this is where I belonged. Dad was happiest when he was here." Rick Jr. continues to be a palpable and motivating influence for both women. Irene says, "Rick was thorough to a fault." Pinckney interrupts, "He was a walking encyclopedia." They describe him as the most ethical, kind man whose humor was infectious; a man "who could get along with a brick wall."
Irene tells stories of the earlier years when she and her husband decided "to do something fun and start an art gallery" and the series of serendipitous events that led to their success as fine art framers and dealers. One story has a thriller plot line in which they discover they have been sold expensive forgeries. Irene went to the FBI. In partnership, they set up a sting operation, sent the forger to jail, uncovered hundreds of other forgeries and reclaimed the money they thought was gone. Pinckney sits on the floor hugging her knees, listening closely.
Her mother says, "Oh, she's a clone," referring to Pinckney and her father. Pinckney calls her mother Blondie; her mother calls her Pickles (as a little girl she loved pickles). During the afternoon, Pinckney makes several comments that cause her mother to widen her eyes and gasp, "Don't you dare put that in the magazine", to which Pinckney explosively laughs, "Why not?" Irene is prim and proper; Pinckney is audacious and as unstoppable as uncorked champagne.
Pinckney tells me that she has learned so much from her mother "grooming" her. "At first Mom was shocked at some of my display concepts, but I keep getting better and sometimes she's delighted!" They both acknowledge Pinckney has a significant learning curve, but she brings a fresh perspective, new concepts and technological know-how that have already proven invaluable to the business. In an artfully diplomatic way, Irene suggests that many things turn out to be "Pinckney's way." She says, "I've learned not to monitor her because she has high standards and understands the business. She is already a true professional.and the clients and artists love her."
Mother and daughter admit that working and living together (they share a home on Fripp Island) has its drawbacks. They can occasionally get on each other's nerves. Irene says, "We can butt heads, but when it comes down to it, I just always ask what would Dad do?" I ask Pinckney about her social life and she deadpans, "What social life?" Living on Fripp Island can be isolating. Irene has already established a life in the Lowcountry and says, "I have a collection of wonderful, fun, diverse friendships." Undoubtedly, Pinckney's magnetism will draw people to her.
Pinckney's parents modeled a balance between being close to each other and staying open to the larger world. From their gallery in Beaufort they created a large network of international friends and clients through the world of Art. From her strong family foundation, Pinckney seems ready to step into this larger world. Irene says, "I feel so grounded because I know where I come from and where I'm going." What a legacy to give a daughter.
Heritage: Father's side related to Pinckney's of Beaufort and distantly to Pinckney's of Charleston; Mother's grandfather was a state senator in Virginia.
Fashionistas: Mother and daughter love to model the gallery's original jewelry, and unwittingly walk out wearing things with the price tags hanging down.
Siblings: Pinckney, 28 graduated from USC (Columbia) with a degree in Experimental Psych; her brother Richard, 26, is a lawyer practicing
Visit the Gallery:
I. Pinckney Simons Gallery
711 Bay St. Beaufort, SC