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Artist Spotlight: Sam Doyle (American, 1906–1985)

The Gibbes has an amazing collection of 10,000 objects. With so many objects and only so much gallery space, at any given time, the vast majority of our collection remains safely tucked away in storage. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share it online! This post is one in what will be a series of artist spotlights, highlighting a variety of treasures from the Gibbes collection.

In honor of this summer’s focus on vernacular art (see my last post from July), I have chosen to spotlight South Carolina artist Sam Doyle (1906–1985). Doyle was an African-American vernacular artist from St. Helena Island, near Beaufort, and he found artistic inspiration within his community. Settled by the descendants of African American slaves after the Civil War, the residents of St. Helena Island remained largely secluded from the mainland through the mid-twentieth century. This isolation allowed residents to preserve many of the folk traditions rooted in their African heritage. Elements of Gullah culture, oral histories of Southern slavery, and Christian iconography greatly influence Doyle’s work. He is best known for his portraits which most frequently portray significant figures living on St. Helena Island. Using found objects, such as sheets of tin roofing or wood paneling as his canvas, Doyle created full-body portraits that often include text describing the subject’s importance to local culture. The Gibbes owns four paintings by Doyle, three of which you can see above.

And if you like Sam Doyle’s work, you should also check out our current exhibition in the Main Gallery, The Creative Spirit: Vernacular Art from the Gadsden Arts Center. It features work by artists who, like Doyle, are self-taught and live in the rural south. The exhibition closes on October 16, so you have a few more weeks to get here. Godzilla will be waiting!

Pam Wall, Curator of Exhibitions, Gibbes Museum of Art

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