July 2022 Issue
Photography courtesy of T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
Saundra Renee Smith
St. Helena Island
Gullah born and raised on St. Helena Island, SC
Retired Healthcare Nurse Educator/ Administrator, Spiritual Counselor
Visual Gullah/Geechee Folk Artist www.Gullahartbyrenee.com
Spouse Michael, two children, and four grandchildren, including 1-month-old Mariah Carenee!
How did you discover your artistic ability?
I began my journey as a Gullah/Geechee self-taught outsider folk artist following a traumatic period in my life—the deaths of four close family members six months apart over two years. After burying my mother on Christmas Eve of 2007, I found myself in a very dark place, but learned from that womb of darkness and through great pain that great joy can be born. The artist inside of me drew her first breath when I merged canvas with paint for the first time. My art helped me paint my way out of the darkness, as I taught myself to paint away the pain.
What makes you a Lowcountry Original?
I was born in the house I was raised in on St. Helena Island. I was delivered by one of the last remaining mid-wives on the island—Miss Missy. Conceived and delivered in the Gullah/Geechee culture as a descendant of the Guale Native Americans and African slaves. I guess you can’t get more original than that.
What do you hope people “get” out of your art?
I hope people will view my art and catch a glimpse of Gullah/Geechee culture and lifestyle in all of its simplicity as it relates to our spiritual connections to the land, water, nature and each other as kinfolk. I want viewers to see themselves in the work, too, as it is spiritual and can be transformative.
What’s the best encouragement you’ve ever received in pursuing your artistic talents?
I give this credit to Mary Inabinett Mack, the previous owner of the Red Piano Gallery II. My husband took two of my very first pieces to her to be framed as a surprise gift for me. Mary looked at the work and told him to tell me: “Bring in some more!” This was the greatest encouragement I, as an emerging artist, could receive!
What artist (living or deceased) would you rate as a perfect 10?
Folk artist Sam Doyle is a 10 in my book. Because of the struggles and insults he endured in the creation of his unusual and unique Gullah/Geechee folk art, which depicted the culture and history of his people, many of us are now recognized and appreciated as true artisans. Sam Doyle lived on St. Helena Island, and his artwork now sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars around the world. I am proud he was my neighbor.
People always think creative people are messy and chaotic. What works for you?
My inner artist and I engage in intense team building stages before beginning the work—storming, norming and conforming. “We” start out like a hurricane where paint and canvas are pulled out and lying everywhere as we decide what size, what color, what next! Soon we get into a flow and in sync as the idea takes shape. At this stage we look at the mess in the studio and cannot complete the piece until we organize our surroundings. Finally, we work on the piece in a neat, quiet and peaceful fashion as we merge in creativity.
What are you shining about?
For a Gullah/Geechee outsider folk artist, I am very proud to have been inducted into the National Association of Women Artists, Inc. Also, having a piece of my art used as a permanent installation outside the Brookgreen Gullah/ Geechee Garden in Murrells Inlet, SC, is very thrilling. Proudest also was the first time I saw my work on the cover of Pink and Paisley Magazines!
In addition to your artistic talent, what’s your next best talent?
I am a great administrator. I love helping others, and my background in healthcare has given me the tools needed to help my community. I run a food bank to support those with food insecurities, especially children and seniors. This feeding program consists of a drive-thru distribution and deliveries of food to porches all across St. Helena daily for those who lack transportation. I instituted two after-school program sites to feed and educate children left behind academically due to Covid-19. Our feeding program also provides education and employment for community members whose jobs were affected during the pandemic. I am proud of the great volunteers and partners who helped to feed more than 13,000 disadvantaged individuals last year.
What’s something unique in your house/studio that more than likely no one else has?
Not many people would have a handmade cast net made by Mr. Legree, who was the last net maker on St. Helena. I also have my father’s plow, the one he used to hitch to his horse, Naggy, when he was cultivating the land he farmed to provide food and money for our family. I also have a collection of reclaimed wood from fallen trees of different species like cedar, cherry, oak, pine and maple. These pieces remind me of elders long gone. We turn them on our lathe and create beautiful bowls and containers, capturing the spirit of our past. All these things inspire my work as an artist as I remember their importance.
I will be the featured artist exhibiting at the Art League of Hilton Head at 14 Shelter Cove, HHI. The opening reception is Wednesday, July 6, from 5 to 7p.m. The show runs until August 13th and is open to the public.