Community Mural Project is tunneling its way through Beaufort’s history

3 mins read

Story and photos by Ron Callari

Beaufort artists have mobilized to create a historic mural on the walls of a unique tunnel at the Technical College of the Lowcountry. This underground passage extends from Building 1 on the east side of Ribaut Road, under the thoroughfare, to the Student Center on the west side of campus. Artists are envisioning adding vivid historic tales and events of Beaufort County spanning over three centuries, from its inception in 1711, through the Reconstruction era, up to modern day.

This art installation will attract ‘creatives’ from all disciplines. Their collaboration will blend painting, sculpture, Gullah art, adinkra symbols, as well as workshops and performance art that will include music, storytelling, poetry, active sketching and folklore. 

The selection of this location was historically relevant, since the TCL campus was once the home of the Mather School. Established during the Reconstruction era, this site – largely overlooked by historians – was a boarding school that dedicated its focus to educating the daughters of former slaves.

Abraham Brown, who studied at Savannah College of Art and Design, was the first artist to add a life-size illustration at the entryway of the tunnel located on the western end of Ribaut Road. 

In conjunction with the dedication of the Community Mural Project on February 24, 2017, Brown was assisted by other artists to add the finishing brush strokes to paintings of five Civil War soldiers. As a work in progress, the uniforms of these Union soldiers’ were painted in the regulation color of dark blue. This imagery is representative of the many black slaves who joined the cause to assist the North versus the South. Historically, the 1st S.C. Colored Troops received their regimental colors and were accepted into the army on the same day the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Beaufort, on Jan. 1, 1863. 

Going forward, one of the goals of the project is to add stories of Beaufort’s notables, such as Robert Smalls and Rachel Crane Mather.

Since the tunnel committee hasn’t even begun the work on the interior walls of the underpass, there’s a lot of work that needs to be conceived, approved and added to the project. The goal is to finish the first half of the exteriors and interior by the fall of 2018, with a completion date by the end of the following year.

According to one of the project organizers, Diane Britton Dunham, artists who have worked on the mural and/or pledged to do so include Brown, Cindy Male, Hank Herring, Amiri Ferris, Julia Anderson, Sharon Riley, Greg Rawls, and Dunham herself, among others. Students will also be painting a large portion of the project under the supervision of professional artists.

Other local artists and students who are interested in joining this initiative can contact Dunham at Ddgriffin55@gmail.com.

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