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Sam Doyle’s St. Helena First Motor Car. Submitted photo.

Penn Center to unveil restored Sam Doyle piece

From staff reports

Thomas “Sam” Doyle was an African-American artist from Saint Helena Island. His colorful paintings on sheet metal and wood recorded the history and people of St. Helena’s Gullah community.

Born in 1906 near Frogmore, Doyle attended elementary school at the Penn School, where his teachers first recognized his artistic talent and encouraged him to pursue his practice. Doyle dropped out of the Penn school in the ninth grade to find employment and continue his art.

Now, the Historic Penn Center will unveil a newly restored piece of art by Doyle. It is titled St. Helena First Motor Car. It is a large installation, measuring 48 inches by 77 inches.

This original piece of art is part of the York W. Bailey Museum’s Sam Doyle holdings. However, it deteriorated over time and had reached a point that this artistic rendering faced serious and possibly irreparable damage.

Penn Center moved forward with contacting Art Restorations by Clyde Williams and invested the needed funds to restore this priceless piece of art. The piece itself represents the hearse used by John Chisholm who owned and operated the Chisholm funeral home at the time. The vehicle also served the community by providing a taxi service for residents of the island.

Doyle was completely immersed in his milieu and was always aware of the landscape and life that he observed on a daily basis.

John Chisholm – the Chisolm name appears in the upper left-hand corner of the painting – was the son of Joe Chisholm, the founder of the now Chisholm Galloway Home for Funerals located in Beaufort. The original name for the business was Joe Chisholm and Sons, established in 1908 on Fuller Plantation on St. Helena Island.

John Chisholm graduated from Embalming School in the 1920s and joined his father in the business until Joe was killed in an auto accident in 1943. In the 40s, Chisholm Funeral Home moved to 808 Bladen Street in Beaufort where it is currently located.

John Chisholm was devoted to his mother, Adaline Chisholm, until his death on August 20, 1955. John Chisholm did not want his family to work for outsiders, so he was not only an undertaker, but he also established a grocery store and employed family members. He also raised livestock and hired community workers to care for them.

When he died, the local newspaper called him a “pioneer of Beaufort County; and his many friends and acquaintances regret the passing of such a congenial personality.”

Collectively, the work of Doyle, who died in 1985, illustrates history as viewed through his “mind’s eye.” His work has been featured at the High Museum in Atlanta, the Corcoran Museum in Washington D.C., as well as many other prominent museums.

This exquisitely restored piece serves as a document of a life lived, a bygone era, and a hope-filled tribute to the Gullah history and culture as it was lived on St. Helena Island during Sam Doyle’s life.

Want to go?

What: Unveiling of Restored Sam Doyle Piece: St. Helena’s First Motor Car

When: 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 13

Where: York W. Bailey Museum, Penn Center, 16 Penn Center Circle-West, St. Helena Island, SC

For more information: www.penncenter.com

Editor’s Note

Information about John Chisolm was submitted by his grandniece Edith Galloway.

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