Exhibition | Palmettopalooza

Mar 25, 2015 — Sep 6, 2015

Palmettopalooza spans more than 170 years of artistic achievement, beginning in the mid-1800s with an early utilitarian storage vessel and two rare pitchers turned by enslaved Edgefield potter and poet David Drake. Also from the mid-nineteenth century are two unusual miniature portraits – one capturing the likeness of a little girl from Greenville and the other a jewel-like rendering of a house in Charleston – both painted on the eve of the War Between the States.

The Charleston Renaissance, a cultural phenomenon loosely bracketed between two world wars, was especially productive for the arts in and around South Carolina’s “Holy City.” The Lowcountry was an inexpensive yet exotic destination for tourists during the Great Depression, and, fueled by prospects for commerce, native artists like Alice Ravenel Huger Smith created affordable souvenirs of watercolors and woodblock prints. The charm and allure of the coastal landscape and Charleston’s rich and varied historical architecture, often enlivened by African-American street life, continued to motivate local painters William Harleston and Anna Heyward Taylor, as well as visiting artists such as Lamar Dodd, Stephen Etnier, Bernard Karfiol, Hobson Pittman and Houghton Cranford Smith well into the 1950s. 


Horace Day repeatedly returned to paint in the Charleston area throughout his career. A practitioner of painterly plein air realism, Day was an educator for many years in the South, beginning in 1936 in Augusta, Georgia, and ending with his retirement in 1967 after 25 years’ teaching in the art department at Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, Virginia. For nearly half a century Day’s seasonal work in South Carolina focused on Charleston city life, rural African-American church architecture and the subtropical beauty of barrier-island landscapes.


Embracing contemporary art, Palmettopalooza includes iconic modernist Jasper Johns, a native son who has achieved international acclaim. Kingstree resident William McCullough was commissioned to paint a series of landscapes featuring South Carolina locations associated with important African-Americans: Mayesville, the home of Mary McLeod Bethune; Florence, where William H. Johnson was born; and the site on Little Horse Creek near Edgefield, where David Drake created some of his classic pottery. The city of Greenville itself provided source material for John Moore, a major American realist painter based in Philadelphia, whose visit here resulted in a body of work that extols the Upstate’s transition from textile town to quality-of-life leader in the New South of the 21st century.