*One of the joys of living on Hilton Head Island is knowing that, when it comes to retiring from a lifetime of ‘the grind’, the relocation aspect is already knocked. The next thing to check off – while taking that last ride home on the commuter train – is pursuing a lifelong passion that, for many people, is to follow an artistic vision. So now, the question arises, if one is a working artist, living in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where does one go, and what does one do, when it’s time to retire? Hmmmm.
Hilton Head’s natural surroundings are further blessings to those lucky enough to wake up here each day. To many people around the world, the natural habitat of the lowcountry, is truly a work of art, and cannot be overstated as a luxury, especially, when considering that much of this community’s resort development began during an era when little, if any, consideration was given to the environment, and greenhouse gases hadn’t even made it into the political lexicon. Landscaping in the sixties and seventies on the east and west coast of the United States consisted of razing shoreline forests to erect high-rise dwellings with penthouses, and city skyscrapers. It simply wasn’t vogue to leave trees standing, where rent could be collected.
Yet, in spite of this, Hilton Head developed as it did, creating a land/seascape on the southeastern shoreline, second to none. Ancient live oaks, veiled with Spanish moss, and wax myrtle trees grow unhindered, where alligators, snowy egrets, and herons fish standing next to each other. Really, one can almost hear them talking to each other. And, as recently as two years ago, Asian community developers began visiting Hilton Head to understand what made it so aesthetically pleasing to investors and vacationers, so they could mimic it in their own resort planning.
Which begs the question, how does one feel artistically inspired in a place that is itself, a natural work of art? Hilton Head Island is a glorious little nook, a most pristine example of developed shoreline in the lowcountry along the eastern seaboard. The answer is that inspiration resides within the artist, evidenced during the research and interviewing of this article highlighting four distinctly different, renowned Hilton Head working artists who live and create just around the corner from one another.
Schoolteachers on Hilton Head make great use of field trip opportunities inherent just by virtue of living and learning on the island. Any numbers of locally protected areas easily bring textbook illustrations to vibrant life, so that everything learned in the classroom, can be applied to the immediate natural habitat.
Fortunately, the lowcountry is a veritable biosphere of wildlife, encouraging constant outdoor studies. Science classes often include trips to the beach, trolling for shells and exoskeletons scattered, layered under eons of tides. With this as background, research biologist/wildlife photographer, Robert Rommel, takes advantage of his surroundings to amplify the range of his own camera art, as well as, to give him a unique perspective when teaching photography workshops.
His current project, conducted on location at Fish Haul Creek Park at Port Royal Plantation beach, includes a scenic trail walk through the park, opening out to one of many of Hilton Head’s awesome, natural surprises. A constantly changing seascape view including shoreline, huge rocks, tide pools, and just over the waterway, Port Royal Plantation.
The mating ritual of the sand fiddler crab fascinates Robert and his Nikon today. Yes, fascinates. In fact, until he gets his shot, one goes on blind faith that the silent, patient, wildlife photographer, lying stretched out prone, for hours on the sand, knows that what he is waiting for, flat on his stomach, is going to be worth it. And the resulting photos don’t disappoint, (see captioned photo) as he catches the male sand fiddler crab doing quite a dance with one claw waving madly about, trying for the attention of a mate, who has to be totally impressed by this. But what more could a female sand fiddler want, out here at 10:00 am in the salt marsh of Port Royal? Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
Robert’s work recently won a Wildlife in Focus Contest and a portfolio of his work can be found on his website, http://www.robertrommel.com, where one can also find out when and where he teaches photography workshops.
II. Brucie Holler
In the Gallery of Shoppes, overlooking Greenwood Avenue just before the Sea Pines gate, Brucie Holler’s more recent “starling murmurations” –inspired paintings can be found. Vibrant acrylics on paper abstracts decorate the walls, floors, and tables of her studio, compelling the gaze over and over as her brush strokes mimic the reverberations of a flock of starlings that hauntingly sweep the skies. YouTube videos set to music, illustrate this wildlife phenomenon, and Brucie’s abstract interpretations are breathtaking.
“As a non-representational painter, I am interested in exploring the source of inspiration,” writes Brucie. She wonders how people experience the natural world, life, beauty, music, language, “and translate that into authentic, personal transcendent art?”
Prior to the mixed media murmurations studies – a wondrous, mixed media panel consisting of thirty, eight by eight-inch squares, can be bought as individual squares, or as a whole (see captioned photo, above) – and concurrent with this work, is much of Brucie’s abstract art which distinguishes itself by the use of multi-layered aqua-teal colors, and charcoal strokes (see abstract painting, right). Her work is mainly informed by two constant sources, language and the natural world. Language, as expressed through poetry, as well as the natural energy created by wind, gravity, and stillness, inspires her lines and what happens between the forms as aroused by the starling murmurations.
A South Carolina native, Holler pursued graduate work at the Maryland Institute, College of Art in Baltimore, after receiving a BA in painting at Florida State University. She has pursued her artistic vision through teaching art, and working administratively, while constantly honing her own craft studying with other internationally known artists, including Richard Smith, and Truman Lowe. Her work has been shown in galleries in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, and Colorado.
Represented by Camellia Art locally, and Parker Gallery on St. Simons Island, Brucie appreciates that she can be prolific and evolve, as she is inspired. Her work can also be viewed online, at http://www.brucieholler.com/
One island neighbor, award-winning and world-renowned commissioned portrait artist, has lived locally in surprisingly, well-preserved privacy, since 1972. What an honor for native islanders to grow up near such an eminent, prolific artist, whose credentials extend from 1952, when he was elected to the Society of Illustrators, all the way to 1992, being inducted into the Illustrators Hall of Fame. In between, Joe established himself as an internationally acclaimed illustrator/portrait artist, whose commissioned work has kept patrons queued up for ten years at a time.
After contracting polio in 1958, Bowler nonetheless, committed himself to his art; indeed, grew and evolved, with each passing decade from the business world of nationally recognized illustrations, to commissioned portraiture on Hilton Head, where he found time to create his own inspired art between and around commissions.
Referring fondly to his years working as errand boy, palette and brush cleaner at Cooper Studio in the early years, his first break came when Saturday Evening Post artist/illustrator, Coby Whitmore, took a sample portrait the nineteen year-old Bowler had been working on, and sold it for him to Cosmopolitan magazine for $1000. Bowler made $35.00/week at that time. In 1967 the Artists’ Guild of New York named Joe their Artist of the Year, and by this time, magazines were commissioning him to do portraits of well-known people including a McCall’s article portraying eight presidential candidates’ wives; works that landed the covers of such well-known publications as the August 1971 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal portrait of Rose Kennedy, and a Saturday Evening Post cover of Julie and David Eisenhower.
Encouraged, and managed by his late wife, Marilyn (see captioned photo near the top, by Mark Staff), Joe drew inspiration from her tireless support, inherent understanding of the working artist, and fifty-eight strong years of marriage. Currently, daughter Jolyn Bowler, is the organizer and keeper of the Bowler flame.
Joe Bowler’s works can be viewed online at http://www.joebowler.com, http://www.morriswhiteside.com, or in person at the Morris-Whiteside Gallery at The Red Piano, 220 Cordillo Parkway, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928; phone, 843-842-4433. Anyone with inquiries regarding portraits or non-portrait works can either call Jolyn Bowler, at 843-671-2702, or send an email to email@example.com.
IV. Nancy Mitchell
For the same reason Hilton Head Island stands alone as an incredible testament to the art that is inherent in nature, renowned muralist, wildlife painter, and now, sculptor, Nancy Mitchell, has carved out an artistic niche for herself over the past thirty years; the shared motivation being, environmental respect. Because, just as Hilton Head Island’s early developers insisted on maintaining the natural beauty of the island during building, Nancy’s profound respect for native flora and fauna is always evident in her work. And, not only does she draw inspiration from local land/seascapes, she belongs to the Lowcountry Plein Air Society, an organization devoted to nature, and painting outdoors.
Nancy lives her art, and her art lives within her. There are no other words to describe this totally dedicated, talented, authentic, artist on Hilton Head. Her work evolves through natural textures and hues, and she is unafraid of learning new tricks. As a commissioned muralist through the years, she graciously gives of herself through her art donations to animal relief charities and other non-profit organizations. A true renaissance woman in the new millennium, Nancy’s artistic output is matched only by her glowing smile and sincere desire to return to the earth its natural resources, in any way possible. If Hilton Head Island were personified as an artist, Nancy Mitchell would be its muse, without a doubt.
“Making a living as an artist has only been possible because of diversity. Murals and faux finishes are still an important part of my repertoire as is commission work for clients and designers,” states Nancy.
Her love for animals, especially rescued pets, and the local marsh tackies indigenous to coastal Carolina, has led her to animal drawings, mixed-media works, and animal sculptures more recently. Much of what she has learned has been adding to a fifteen-year brainstorm that has culminated in her current work-in-progress, Life is a Carnival, which will include large, highly textured, sculpture pieces of mixed media, silhouettes, and dynamic shadows, a project inspired largely by the Shriners’ Savannah Carnival.
Represented by The Red Piano Too, Art Gallery, 870 Sea Island Pkwy, St. Helena, SC 29920; phone, 843-838-2241, http://www.redpianotoo.com/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, The Filling Station Gallery, 69 Calhoun Street, Bluffton, SC; phone, 843-263-4796, Mitchell divides her time between shows, commissioned works, and selling her art at farmer’s markets, and weekend art festivals. Those who would like to learn more about Nancy’s passion for oil painting, can take her October 2014 workshop, at the Art Academy.
Each of these artists works in a unique setting of their choosing. Joe Bowler and Brucie Holler prefer their own studios, while Robert Rommel and Nancy Mitchell would rather work outside. The two things they all have in common are 1.) inspiration to create, which only comes from within, and 2.) the extraordinary protective landscape that is Hilton Head Island. Of course, a work of art in and of itself.
*Please note: This article was commissioned by, and first appeared in, the July, 2014, issue of Hilton Head Monthly on page 22, in the magazine’s, Vibe section. This is the writer’s uncut, final version. Any errors of spelling, fact, or inaccuracies that occur herein, please email me, Carmen Hawkins DeCecco, email@example.com, with your concern and contact information, and I will address promptly. Thank you.