Residents and visitors to Beaufort may notice new painted benches dotted around downtown, offering a respite for people who want to sit for a few moments.
The benches were placed earlier this month in six locations throughout downtown, and were viewed by members of the South Carolina Arts Commission.
The bench project, which is under the auspices of the Beaufort Cultural Arts District Board (CDAB), began about a year-and-a-half-ago.
Robb Wells, President and CEO of the Greater Beaufort & Port Royal Convention & Visitors Bureau and at the time a member of the CDAB, said that visitors to Beaufort indicated in surveys that the City did not offer enough seating downtown to allow them to sit and “take it all in.”
“The CDAB wanted to create a solution that would foster collaboration, offers local artists visibility, and provide the seating that people said they wanted,” said Rhonda Carey, a member of the CDAB and downtown events coordinator for the City.
The collaboration began with LowCountry Habitat for Humanity, whose carpenters built each 4-foot long bench. “This served as the ‘canvas’ for each artist,” Carey said.
Six partner organizations were asked to work with their artists to create a design that would reflect their organization’s mission, identity, and place in the community, Carey said. Various materials were used, including oil paint, acrylic, spray paint, and digital artwork. The project was funded by the CDAB and each of the participating organizations.
Artist Omar Patterson’s “Low Country Dreaming” evokes iconic images of the Low Country – sunset, palm trees, and marsh grass – along with historically significant African-American figures – Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Beaufort’s legendary Robert Smalls. Patterson wanted his bench, sponsored by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and situated outside that building, to have “images that were significant to Beaufort’s African-Americans.”
“It took me about three weeks to paint the bench,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s such a blessing to be part of something so great and historic, and to capture the spirit of the Low Country.”
Linda Silk Sviland painted Habitat’s bench, using the organization’s blue and green colors to show a blueprint of a home and the actual finished home. The words “these are my plans for Saturday” are painted over the blueprint – a tagline that Habitat sometimes uses.
“I think it’s a wonderful way to make art,” she said. “Other cities have done beautiful sculptures, but there is no function other than beauty. This is functional art – it’s a terrific way to have the public see art that is useful.”
Beaufort Digital Corridor
Artists: Jess O’Brien, Aaron Miller, Shawn Hill, Shelley Barratt, Brian Canada
Theme: Plug in
Location: Corner of Carteret and North streets
Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce
Artist: Omar Patterson
Theme: Low Country Dreaming
Location: Corner of Bladen and Duke streets
Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity
Artist: Linda Silk Sviland
Theme: Seeking to put God’s love into action
Location: Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
National Reconstruction Era National Park
Artist: Ginger Noah Wareham
Theme: United when the impossible suddenly became possible
Location: Corner of Craven and Scott streets
Santa Elena History Center
Artists: Frank Anson, Tom Van Steenbergh, Sandy Dimke, Lynne Darling
Theme: Beaufort’s earliest history and heritage
Location: Courtyard at Bay and Bladen streets
University of South Carolina Beaufort
Artists: Mary Ann Ford and John Rodriguez; master builder Greg Rawls
Theme: Beaufort College – Rich Heritage of Education
Location: Entrance to Center for the Arts
Lainda Silk Sviland, center, painted this bench for LowCountry Habitat for Humanity.