Lowcountry Originals - Part 1
Meet 7 Dynamic Local Artisans
July 2021 Issue
Part One - To Access Part Two, Click Here
Cool art vibes saturate the air in every form and medium in the Lowcountry, one of the most beautiful natural canvases on earth. With all the surrounding beauty, it’s no wonder the Lowcountry is teeming with creative, talented artists. Some do it for fun. Some do it for a living. All do it to nourish their organic need to create.
Welcome to our second edition of Lowcountry Originals, where you will meet seven dynamic artisans, all filled will creative energy and verve for their work. They have allowed us a peek into their creative worlds, revealed their fears and doubts, told us what inspires them and given us insight into their processes.
Scroll down to take a creative stroll and step into the
Lowcountry art scene >>
Mary C. Leto
photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Current Residence: Bluffton
Art: A pen and ink artist/illustrator
What's the best encouragement you've ever received pursing your artistic talents? As a pen and ink artist/illustrator, I had moderate success but wanted more. In going back to school for an art degree, I found freedom to express my deeper thoughts, becoming what I call a conceptual artist, papermaker and bookbinder. A suggestion to print on handmade paper opened a new universe. It is very exciting to have a thought—a concept—and bring it to fruition in the form of an art piece using a new medium. Paper, for me, counterintuitively, turned out to be more versatile in carrying, or being, the message than paint, ink, or clay. Paper seemed to hold the energy of a living thing, vibrating words and images. My first gallery show garnered the first of many favorable New York Times’ reviews of my work. This was validation of my “conceptual art” and new found medium, encouragement to continue for the next 30 years.
Why did you choose papermaking for expressing your creativity? I am a papermaker because I delight in a primitive process that allows an interaction with nature on both a physical and spiritual level. After my initial exposure to the process of papermaking and an internship at the Dieu Donne Papermill and Gallery in NYC, I was able to select plant and rag fibers, just as a painter uses a palette, to tell a story or express an idea. Each sheet a small miracle, a gift of nature and a secret shared with me. Pushing paper to new levels and making and binding books—little hand held sculptures of craft, art, word and fiber—fill all my artistic needs. Pulled from retirement by Mira Scott of Picture This Gallery on Hilton Head, I continue my pursuit of finding more Lowcountry fibers for a larger palette and bigger ideas.
How do you get your creative juices flowing? If a review of ideas jotted in notebooks over the years fails to spark something new, then a walk in a park, picking up stones, beach combing, or sitting by the May River usually does the trick. Nature never fails to excite. A nap is good, too!
What do you love most about your creativity? Freedom! Being labeled an artist gives me the freedom to create anything at anytime and allows for some pretty unusual disciplines and very few rules. Basically you can color outside the lines and keep a childlike curiosity. Experimenting is part of the job, and the more fantastic the imagined work, the more interesting.
In your artistic pursuit, what is your proudest moment so far? The most satisfying moment came as a lecturer for the prestigious Charleston Library Society. The subject was the history of watermarks (images seen in paper when held to the light) and a demo of how watermarks are made, along with paper sheet formation. The attendees included experienced book conservationists and binders, including a group from the Morgan Library in NYC. The lecture and demo was extremely well received, and I felt I was among my peers. I was able to use all my research material, my collection and my experience; sharing knowledge was extremely satisfying.
In addition to your art what's your next best talent? More of an obsession but equal to my love of paper and book making is the joy of bottle digging and collecting. For 40 years I researched old maps (including a trip to Washington, DC, Library of Congress map room) looking for likely spots for 19th century dumps. The joy, euphoria, of pulling a gem from the earth in the form of a hand blown glass bottle kept me searching for years. I call it modern day archeology. Counseled to forget bottles and concentrate on my art did not deter me, and still I slow at construction sites looking for a glint of glass in a sand pile. Along with bottles of course, other artifacts and more are also dug. Items found are sometimes an inspiration for a book, sculpture or assemblage. The act of searching keeps me out, surrounded by nature in woods or fields, much like gathering plants for making paper, or at the very least, a wildflower bouquet.
What's something unique in your collection that more than likely no one else has? My most prized paper possession is a 4” x 6” piece of paper titled “A Paper Prayer from Robin Ami Silverberg of Dobin Mill in New York City September 2001.” Robin, a master papermaker and book artist, gathered papers that fluttered down from the World Trade Center on 9/11 and landed near her paper mill in Brooklyn.The papers were pulped together, recycled and formed into sheets to hold a prayer. Paper is not always just paper, it can be the story it holds.
What makes you a Lowcountry Original? Sourcing and experimenting with local fibers, be it from nearby woodlands (mulberry), gardens (hosta),or fields (milkweed), for processing into pulp gives me an intimate knowledge of my surroundings and community. My arrival in the Lowcountry coincided with a moon tide, supplying me with spartina washed up on local beaches to use to create a unique paper. “Moon Tide Paper Studio” was born. I continue to create paper of Lowcountry fibers sometimes with inclusions of Spanish moss, shells and sand for unusual papers and inspired artists books. I can literally hold the Lowcountry in my hand.
Leanne McJunkin Coulter & Rhonda Davis
photography by Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Residence: Daufuskie Island
Career: Indigo artists and Owners of Daufuskie Blues
Art: Shibori, resist indigo dyeing
Rhonda: When someone finds out what you do what question do they always ask? I can answer this probably for both of us. We are most frequently asked: “Are your hands always blue”? The answer? Pretty much! I like to think of it as a symbol of the sisterhood of indigo dyers, not only across the world, but across time to ancient cultures—they had the same blue hands!
Rhonda: Were there ever naysayers? First, let me say, our island community and my family, especially my husband, have been amazingly supportive, but there were naysayers in respect to our success in being able to process the island’s wild indigo. I actually need to thank those individuals who were so sure we couldn’t get the blue dye from local plants because it motivated me to make it happen! And it did happen! Though, I must admit, not in great enough quantity (dare I say yet—that is my next ‘dream’) to use it in our daily dye process. It takes an enormous amount of leaf material (it is the green leaf that yields the blue dye sediment) to yield a very small amount of indigo dye powder.
Rhonda: If you could go anywhere in the world to create your art, where would it be and why? I am blessed to say this. There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be and no life I would exchange for my sweet Daufuskie Island life. Now, if I could spend a moment in time elsewhere? I’d want to peep in on Eliza Lucas Pinckney, the young woman who, at age 16, pioneered indigo into a colonial cash crop in Charleston, SC. I’d like to lend a helping hand to that venture!
Describe what ultimate success looks like for you. Rhonda: Coming to a more perfect balance of my life passions: Studio time, family time and relationships; and most importantly, the spiritual studies of my Christian beliefs. Balance is always a challenge. Leanne: I think I have it right now! I live on Daufuskie and get to practice an art that continues to amaze me every day. I still get excited when I take a piece fabric out of the vat and watch it turn from lime green to blue. The magic of Indigo!
Rhonda: What makes you a Lowcountry Original? We are proudly preserving a process that is part of South Carolina’s original heritage! Processing Indigo….. the ‘blue gold’!
Leanne: What artist would you rate as a perfect 10? Motohiko Katano, (1889-1975) was a Japanese painter and batik artist who began exploring shibori in 1975. He devised a method of resist dyeing that combines pleating fabric and stitching across the width of the folded fabric. The stitching is done through the layers of the folded fabric. The process produces a repeating pattern across the fabric.
Leanne: In addition to your art, what’s your next best talent? I have a wonderful career as a Speech-Language pathologist and reading tutor. It is fulfilling to be able to help children with communication and reading. If you can’t “play the school game” school isn’t fun. I love being a child’s cheerleader.
Leanne: In your artistic pursuits, what is your proudest moment so far? The first time someone came into the studio and said, “I read about you.” I said, really, where?
Leanne: How and/or why did you choose this medium for expressing your creativity? I actually love to knit lace. I was going to open a natural hand-dyed yarn studio when I moved to Daufuskie. I love to spin wool, knitting and using natural dyes but I didn’t understand the indigo vat. In 2013, Rhonda and I went to Asheville to learn how to build a natural indigo vat with Catharine Ellis, a weaver and natural dye artist. We absolutely fell in love with dyeing fabric with indigo. We have had an indigo vat going ever since that first class. I don’t even knit any more.
Leanne: What’s something your brain tries to make you do that you have to will yourself not to do? I love symmetry. I like repeating patterns so it is difficult for me as an artist to create something random.
Leanne: What’s the best encouragement you’ve ever received in pursuing your artistic talents? When Rhonda and I started dyeing with indigo we were on our front porches. The publisher of our community newsletter, “The Front Porch” said she wanted to write a story about what we were doing. The entire island supported what we were doing, and that support continues today.
photography (top) by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
Current Residence: Bluffton
Career: Wedding Planner & Event Designer
Art: Crafting beautiful events
Family: Adam and I have been married 21 years this year. Adam is a Station Captain at Bluffton Township Fire District. We have two children, Will is 15, starting his sophomore year at May River High School, Gracyn is 11, and starting sixth grade at McCracken Middle.
What’s the best encouragement you’ve ever received in pursuing your artistic talents? I worked for four large companies before I started my own company, and was able to take to heart the dedication, perseverance and the fundamentals of what they had created, and I had become a part of. An experience, a magic moment, a sense of place. I realized I could create that for someone… allowing them to be truly in the moment, present in time. That is a gift—a gift we don’t take advantage of enough in our lives—to be truly present capturing and remembering an exact moment. This is what drives and inspires me every day. There are a lot of hard days, but when you are standing in the space you created, surrounded by people having the times of their lives, a night they won’t forget, it is worth it.
How do you get your “creative juices” flowing? Quiet focus. I try to listen to my clients intently. I like to see the surroundings where we are meeting, I pull inspiration from images and things they love. I listen to the stories they tell and the images they share with me to find their sense of style and passion.
People always think creative people are messy and chaotic. Are you neat or messy? How does your way work for you? I am a little bit of both. When I was a child, I was messy. I had too much to do and dream about then to worry about cleaning up. Now, my outside world is organized, my home is clean, I am very organized when we travel, or I am packing up trailers, vans and storage units. However, my to-do list, the thoughts in my head and maybe a few junk drawers or two, are still very messy. With that being said, I can tell you where just about anything is no matter who’s looking for it; it all has a place and a home.
What do you love most about your creativity? Seeing it go from inspiration, to thoughts in my mind, to coming to life. It never gets old.
If you could go anywhere in the world to perform/create your art, where would it be and why? I would love to plan a series of events across the U.S. in all different locations—remote locations, under the stars, an appreciation of the land and surroundings. Going from state to state, finding local farms that produce what the state is known for and host an incredible farm-to-table dinner, like a dinner in the middle of a corn field in Nebraska, or among a peach orchard in Georgia, a barbecue in a bluebonnet field in Texas.
In addition to your art, what’s your next best talent? Naming all 50 states in alphabetical order! I know it’s impressive. Haha!
When someone finds out what you do, or where you are from, what question do they always ask you? You have the dream job! Can I come work with you! My job is very rewarding; it is working with families to create their best day, but it’s hard work. It has taken years of experiences, failures and quick fires under extreme pressure to learn what works, what doesn’t work, and what is plan B, C and D in case A, B, or C happen. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but to be great at what you do takes true dedication, determination and old-fashioned hard work.
What makes you a Lowcountry Original? Honoring and appreciating the sense of place, history, culture and nature that creates the Lowcountry. It is quite remarkable.
photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Current Residence: St. Helena
Career: Artist and Owner of Legacy Art Gallery, Beaufort
What’s the best encouragement you’ve ever received in pursuing your artistic talents? It was advice from my husband and children that I can do anything and they would always support me. I am encouraged that I am able to paint the best paintings, and even when I feel that I can’t create, they remind me of how much I have learned in such a short amount of time.
People always think creative people are messy and chaotic. Are you neat or messy? How does your way work for you? I would say that I am somewhat messy. As an artist, I have come to realize that I do not own clothes that do not have a splash of paint somewhere on them. If I paint and don’t get any paint on myself, it seems that the job is just not complete. I try my best to stay clean, and it just does not work for me. I have paint on my cell phone and all over my hands, and at times, even on my face.
What do you love most about your creativity? I love that my creativity is a representation of who I am. I feel my art is very free and different from other artists. I create the visions from my mind, and I do not hold back. As a self taught artist, I am able to create without feeling restricted to certain techniques. I am able to create freely, and I love what I do.
When and how did you discover your talent? I knew that I had this talent when I would paint as a child. I stopped doing art for years until later in my adult life at the age of 52. My talented children wondered where they got their talent because they never saw me create any art. As a gift for Christmas, I created my first set of original paintings for my four children. These four paintings have been the motivation for me to start my career as an artist. It also makes me feel good that they still have the originals that made me who I am as an artist today.
Why did you choose painting for expressing your creativity? I just love painting because of the way I can manipulate the paint on the canvas. I can mix colors and blend almost effortlessly. I love to paint with acrylic because it dries fast, and I am a fast painter. I like to let my brush flow to create amazing pieces of art. I feel like my story is told through each brush stroke.
Describe what ultimate success looks like for you. To me, ultimate success would be leaving behind a legacy for my children. I have done a lot in life, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to show for all of the work I have done. My goal was to build a long lasting legacy for my children to have something to remember me by later in life. Being able to create a legacy was the inspiration for me naming my business Legacy Art Gallery, LLC.
What has been your greatest achievement as an artist? Opening my own art gallery! Being the first black female gallery owner on Bay Street in Beaufort, SC is just a dream for me. I became an artist to be able to express myself, and I got even more from this career than expected. My art is now making other people happy, and it makes me happy that they can hold a piece of my “Legacy” on their walls.
WAIT! There's more...
to read about the remaining three artist, click here!
There was just too much creativity to fit in one web posting ;)