Traveling Gullah Geechee Art Exhibit to Debut at Hampton Gala

Victoria Smalls

The Hampton County Arts Council have announced that the Stanley Arts building will be the first venue to exhibit the Private Art Collection of Gullah native Victoria A. Smalls. A formal Gala will mark the opening of this prestigious exhibit, which will then run through the month of February. The public is invited to come enjoy art featuring notable and emerging artists, entertainment, silent auction and authentic Gullah cuisine at the Grand Opening Gala on December 14, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at the Stanley Arts Building in Hampton, South Carolina.

The collection will feature over 85 works of art from emerging and notable artists, whose compositions derive from a broad range of styles and stories, conveying the collector’s love of her Gullah Geechee culture. Featured in the collection, are works from renowned artists such as James Denmark, Cassandra Gillens, Della Wells, Jonathan Green Amiri Farris and Synthia SAINT JAMES, with pieces from regional and local creatives like Charles DeSaussure, Diane Britton Dunham, Johnnie Griner, Lisa Gilyard-Rivers, Mary Inabinett Mack, art created by her son Christopher Smalls, daughter Layla Love, with a few pieces created by the collector herself. This collection has taken more than a decade to acquire and is the largest and most prestigious ever to be presented by the Hampton County Arts Council.

Victoria Smalls is a creative and knowledgeable public historian and educator, arts advocate, and cultural preservationist, who believes in the value of building sustainable communities through the arts. Within her roles as a federal commissioner with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commissioner, a Maven with the Art of Community-Rural SC, and Director of History, Art and Culture at the historic Penn Center, Smalls has gained an appreciation and passion for learning and sharing all she can about the history, art and culture of her people. Smalls leadership with Penn Center has included development, fundraising, grant writing, program development, cultural and historical presentations, museum management and curating exhibitions.

Prior to Smalls’ work with Penn Center, she managed the internationally acclaimed, Red Piano Too Art Gallery on St. Helena Island, which represents over 50 artists. Her love and knowledge of art has led her to write book on Gullah Geechee artists and their art forms. Victoria Smalls is an accomplished visual artist, in her own right, who has been creating and selling her art professionally for 17 years. She has exhibited locally and nationally in art galleries and museums, to include the York W. Bailey Museum at Penn Center, South Carolina State University’s I.P. Stanback Museum, Wake Forest University’s Museum of Anthropology.

A native of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Smalls describes her experience and education as the building steps and doorway to her lifelong pursuit of promoting Sea Island, Gullah Geechee and African American art, history and culture to a global audience. With a family history dating back to enslavement, her life is intrinsically rooted in Gullah Geechee culture. Her father, Elting B. Smalls, a 1943 graduate of Penn School (the first school in the South to educate formerly enslaved West Africans) married her mother, Laura Markovich after meeting her at a Bahá’í Faith conference in the 1960s, at the very school he attended, now known as Penn Center. The couple became the island’s first interracial couple. Smalls attributes her commitment to the promotion and exploration of history and culture to the rich intercultural environment steeped and nurtured in Gullah culture in which she was raised.

This exhibit is making its first stop in rural Hampton County due to the efforts of Hampton County Arts Council member Heather Bruemmer, who met Ms. Smalls at a conference for the South Carolina Arts Commission project “Art of Community: Rural SC.” She has been a team member for that award winning project for the last two years.

Ms. Bruemmer was concerned about the lack of representation of Hampton County as a part of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor and approached Ms. Smalls to assist in bringing more exposure to Gullah art and culture to the children in Hampton County.

“I initially approached Ms. Smalls, hoping that Penn Center might have a small exhibit to loan. However, as our discussion progressed it became clear that her personal collection had far greater significance than anything I had dreamed it would be possible to exhibit in Hampton. The importance of the work and the narrative told by the collection as a whole, is a unique window into the authentic lowcountry.” said Ms. Bruemmer.

It is hoped that hundreds of school children will visit the newly renovated Stanley building to see the exhibit through field trips. Money raised at the Gala will be used to support related projects, such as a mural depicting Gullah Geechee scenes. The exhibit will then move to South Carolina State University and is expected to tour widely in the months that follow.

The public is invited to attend the Grand Opening Gala to meet the collector, view the art, and enjoy live music, a silent auction, and authentic Gullah cuisine. The event will be held December 14, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. at the Stanley Arts Building in Hampton, SC. Purchase your tickets now at www.hamptoncountyarts.org.

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