Glass Artist Greg Rawls at home in his double-car garage turned art studio. Rawls came up with the idea of making glass Ukrainian flag pins, and collaborated with fellow artists Mary and Eric Thibault, and Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray, to sell the pins. The proceeds will help buy supplies for the beleaguered people of Ostroh, Ukraine. Photos by Bob Sofaly

‘A simple act of love’


Beaufort artists find way to show support for town in war-torn Ukraine

By Bob Sofaly

In addition to the war still being waged, the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 set in motion a humanitarian crisis that has, so far, created approximately 2.5 million refugees and an unknown number of civilian deaths.

The world has united around Ukraine, and many people want to help, in any way possible. That includes the people here in Beaufort.

“In our little town of Beaufort, especially when something big happens, we are a community and we all chip in to help and serve,” said local artist Mary Thibault, co-owner of Thibault Gallery on Bay Street.

Along with the City of Beaufort, a couple of local artists have gotten together to directly help the citizens of a Ostroh, a small town in Ukraine with a population about the same as Beaufort. And the response has been quicker and more substantial than even they imagined.

Last week, Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray made a big first move when he took steps toward “adopting” the Ukaranian town of Ostroh. (https://yourislandnews.com/beaufort-launches-effort-to-support-city-in-ukraine/)

Beaufort Mayor Stephen Murray connected Beaufort with Ostroh, Ukraine

“We all want to do something. Some wanted the City to fly the flag of Ukraine and pass a (municipal) resolution,” he said. “So I (searched for) a town of the same population and geographic layout and came across Ostroh.”

Murray contacted the mayor of Ostroh and, through a translator, came up with things the Ukranians needed.

“If it were us and we were cut off, we would need help too,” Murray said. “… Beaufort and Ostroh are very similar in a lot of ways.”

Murray’s plan was to use the city’s Place of Pride account, used for public charitable donations, to send money to a similar account set up in Ostroh. And the effort has been successful. As of Thursday, more than $15,000 has been raised through the link (https://bit.ly/3Jmapkf) on the city’s web page.

Enter local artist Greg Rawls.

Artist Greg Rawls drops a bit of Elmer’s Glue onto the backing sheet of glass to hold it in place before putting it into the kiln.

“I’ve been a glass artist for 20 to 25 years,” Rawls said, standing in his garage-turned-art studio. 

“I’ve done charitable items before for organizations like Dragon Boat, Beaufort Film Festival and the Pat Conroy Center. Everybody feels for Ukraine and wants to know what we can do through other charitable organizations. But we have to seriously vet a charity to make sure it’s not a scam. Mayor Murray has already done that, and we have direct access to the people of Ostroh and their needs.”

Rawls’ idea was simple. Small glass Ukrainian flags – with the horizontal bands of blue and yellow – “with pins and magnets so people can wear them and show their support.”

Rawls said he knew there had to be a venue from which to sell the pins, so he partnered with co-owners Mary and Eric Thibault at Thibault Gallery.

“Greg came into our shop and showed us the pins and asked how we could sell them and how much to charge,” Eric Thibault said. “We all agreed that $20 was a nice price to pay for a piece of custom glass jewelry and show support for a worthy cause … without breaking the bank.

Rawls said he made “three or four” of the small flags, “and it exploded from there.” Then, Rawls said he took about 40 of the blue and gold pins and they were gone in an hour.

“The next day, I made 80 and they went nearly as fast,” Rawls said. “They keep running out and I make more.”

Glass artist Greg Rawls places up to 80 of the Ukrainian flag pins into the kiln in the background. Rawls said it takes about 24 hours for the kiln to do its thing and cool down. Consequently, he can only make 80 pins a day.

The Thibaults are selling Rawls’ flag pins both in the gallery an online. As of the close of business Thursday, they have sold 137 of Rawls’ pins, generating $2,740 in four days.

And Rawls and the Thibaults are absorbing all the costs. The cost of the glass, firing in the kilns, shipping charges – everything is paid for by the artists and not passed on.

“As artists we get creative,” Mary Thibault said. “We wanted to do something to help and this comes from the heart. Eric and I are in.”

Mary and Eric Thibault of Thibault Gallery individually wrap each glass Ukraine pin in tissue bags for mailing.

“They’ve lost everything and it’s going to be like this for a long time to come,” Eric Thibault said.

Rawls said he will continue to make the pins for as long as needed.

Those that want to directly help the people of Ostroh, Ukraine can drop by the Thibault Gallery on Bay Street and purchase a Ukraine pin for $20, or visit https://bit.ly/3wg97U0 to place an order.

One hundred percent of the proceeds go to help the people of Ostroh, and each purchase is also a tax-deductible charitable donation.

“We feel this simple act of Greg creating these beautiful (pins) and us selling them is a simple act of love,” Mary Thibault said. “And right now, we truly, truly need a lot more love.”

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