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Passing Artists
7/6/2016 12:39:27 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I originally intended to write this column about Art Forms & Theatre Concepts, Inc. I recently attended the theatrical troupe's Piccolo Spoleto production of “It Ain’t Nothin’ But the Blues”. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Founder Art Gilliard and its board of directors chaired by Mattese Miller Lecque are doing much more than presenting theatrical performances with an African American flavor. They’re providing an outlet for some of the local community’s most gifted artists.

Then I learned about the deaths of my mecantnic (I call him a mecantnic because there’s nothing he can’t fix) William ‘Stump’ Malloy and painter/watercolorist Robert ‘Wash’ Washington. I think including Stump and Wash in a column about artists is fitting. Both were unique artists in their own rights. There are those who take their chosen craft, whatever it might be, to a level of artistry. Both Stump and Wash certainly did that.

After viewing “Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues” I was left with a renewed appreciation for what Art Forms & Theatre Concepts does. In Charleston’s theatrical community, the troupe brings to the stage plays and musical performances that highlight the works of legendary black musicians and playwrights. But more importantly, I think it gives a small community of actors, vocalists and musicians opportunities to showcase their talents that remains untapped by the local mainstream performing community.

In many ways, Stump and Wash did the same thing. Stump’s artistry was perhaps more unconventional in that his craft was auto mechanics. But the way Stump, with awe-inspiring simplicity, could put the mechanical parts of an automobile together to make them work in synchronized harmony can’t be described as anything but artistry. His life and lifestyle also were art.

Stump had a way about him that made everything look uncomplicated. But like most artists, he was quite complex. He was a cousin to one of my best friends whom I met in high school, so I didn’t grow up knowing Stump. I however came to know Stump as one of the most honest and fair-minded people I’ve ever encountered. It was an art he applied to every facet of his life. He was a son, brother, husband, father and friend. His family has lived in the same Eastside Charleston house on Aiken Street since 1943 - three generations. Stump was 72 when he died June 28.

Wash was more the conventional artist. But like Stump, his art also transcended everything he did. Wash grew up in Walterboro and attended public schools there. I met him in the 1980s hanging around ‘The Parlor’ on Aiken Street. Wash was an unassuming brother who fit into the Eastside landscape like the thumb on a hand. He was a part of the whole, different, yet essential to the function of the unit. Wash was that guy in the village who took seriously his responsibility of raising the children.

From my perspective, Wash was the kind of guy who did stuff you didn’t notice until you had a reason to think about it. I only realized the other day while looking at different pictures of Wash over the years, he always wore a signature straw hat. I didn’t notice how much he loved golfing until it kept coming up in conversation with others. And I forgot his involvement with The Ebony City Soccer Club as a coach.

In my mind Wash’s main thing was his painting. From time to time, he’d show me stuff he’d painted or tell me about some project with which he was involved. The last time we talked he gave me a signed copy of the 2014 poster he painted for the 39th annual Colleton County Rice Festival. He is the Moja Arts Festival’s official logo designer and three times won the festival’s poster contest.

I think in many ways Wash is reminiscent of Paul Robeson, a renaissance man as prolific in sport as in the arts. Renowned Charleston basketball coach Earl Brown said Wash was as sweet on a basketball court as he was with a paint brush. Brown said Wash played all three sports well - football, baseball and basketball - but he loved golf.

Wash was a culturally conscious brother who knew and propagated Black History. I’m told Wash took his art with him to Florida as he unsuccessfully battled cancer. He hooked up with some Caribbean people and started designing carnival costumes. He died June 26 at age 67.

I was reluctant to attempt inclusion of two guys who have passed on in the same column with the very much alive art of Art Forms & Theatre Concepts, Inc. But I guess in many ways the three belong together.

They each propel into the future the art they love through those of us whom they’ve touched. Be easy fellas.

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