Posted on May 17, 2016 by Andrea Six
Savannah isn’t just a city filled with history, but of culture and art as well. With people from all kinds of different places bringing their own backgrounds and work, it’s no wonder the Historic District doesn’t just house one type of art. The Savannah College of Art and Design might be bringing in young creative energy to the local art scene, but there are also several already-established artists that have moved to and made Savannah home, sharing a beauty they’ve brought with them.
In her City Market gallery above Belford’s, Robin Sterns has taken a tradition and given it her own twist. After working with stained glass for 30 years as a hobby, she decided to try something different with it—what she calls glass collage.
“There’s no solder that you’d see in a traditional stain glass piece,” she revealed. “It feels lighter, more modern and more contemporary than traditional stained glass and it’s also really chunky and textured.”
To do this, Sterns makes her own sea glass, by cutting thick stained glass and throwing it in a rock tumbler with sand and water so it comes out frosty and rounded. With this technique, she’s able to make everything from beautiful lightweight earrings and necklaces to bangles out of wine bottles, as well as bright artwork that can sit in shadowboxes or hang brilliantly in windows.
Jery Bennett Taylor
Lowcountry basket making had all but ceased at the beginning of the 20th century, until women like Jery Bennett Taylor devoted themselves to keeping this craft alive, along with the legacy and heritage of her Gullah culture.
A native of Mount Pleasant, Taylor start making baskets in 1958 when she lived on Boone Hall Plantation with her family. It was there, at the age of five, that her grandmother taught her how to make sweetgrass baskets. But she didn’t settle into making this one style of basket. In the 1990s, the late Mrs. Jeannie Cohen from Hilton Head taught her how to make bulrush style baskets.
“I knew how to make both baskets, so I combined the Beaufort bulrush style and sweetgrass to make Jery Sweetrush Baskets,” she explained. “Now I am the only person doing the bulrush style baskets.”
Inside Taylor’s studio in Downtown Savannah, visitors will find an abundance of hand woven baskets, which vary in shape, size and style. From traditional bread, fruit and rice fanning baskets, her creations can be as little as a small cup, bracelet and plate of food or big enough to hold firewood or blankets. Their decorative flair includes knots, double s handles, triple Egyptian eyes, elephant ears and rope tops.
Samantha Claar’s Gullah Living Gallery
After moving to Tybee Island Samantha Claar had a dream, which lead her to begin painting the Gullah people, descendants of enslaved Africans who live in the Lowcountry. The series started on artist trading cards in 2009 and quickly moved to canvas, where she began painting bright colorful works, portraying their everyday lives.
“It’s been a tremendous learning experience and I truly believe part of the purpose of me being chosen for this is that I continue to put their story out there and I have absolute admiration for the culture,” said Claar. “They have survived so much and done it with such dignity, with such heart.”
In addition to her artwork, there are also traditional Gullah bottle dolls by Genya and soft sculpture dolls by DMcB, as well as jewelry by Kristine Kennedy, made with images of her artwork and fair trade beads from Africa.
Leslie Lovell’s Roots Up Gallery
With a background in advertising and graphic design, Leslie Lovell wasn’t new to art, but it wasn’t until she moved to Savannah that she started working with mixed media, ceramics and jewelry. In her eclectic gallery on Liberty Street, you’ll find her paintings, pottery, photography and jewelry mixed with more than 30 other Folk artists.
Commonly called “outsider art,” Folk Art is distinguished from other art because most artists are not formally trained; they used found materials to create and express themselves. “They had an innate need to create with no rules, so they used materials that were readily available to them which could include mud, scrap wood, house paint or tin to tell their story or deliver their message,” said Lovell. “This art form can be complex or simple in nature and is truly as expressive as the Blues, which tells stories about memories, hardships, love and loss.”
The array of art at her gallery, Roots Up, includes an assortment of paintings on all kinds of objects from wood to screen windows as well as all kinds of other handmade works, including pastel pottery, illustrious ceramics, organic jewelry and unique statues.
Oksana Fine Art Gallery & Studio
Oksana Gruszka-Harmouche didn’t just bring her paintings from a Charleston gallery to Savannah’s City Market; she brought beauty, fragility, nature and romance with her from Ukraine, where she lived 18 years ago. It was there she began painting as a child in the hospital and her imagination started bringing her scenes to paint.
It wasn’t until about 2007 that she moved to Savannah and 2015 when she opened her gallery. But instead of focusing on hardships in her work, Oksana turned to harmony, reveling in romance. In her intricate paintings of historic buildings and the beautiful parks and city squares, Oksana always adds some flair – like the gold setting and flying birds in “Dove’s Nest” – or a tender moment between a couple amid incredible scenery as in “Stroll in Forsyth Park” or “The Arrival.”
Robin Sterns, Samantha Claar and Oksana Gruszka-Harmouche can all be found in their galleries on the second floor of the artist market in City Market above Cinnamon Bear and Belford’s at 309 W. St. Julian Street, with Jery Bennett Taylor in her Studio 101 across the street, located upstairs in City Market’s Franklin Ward North building, while Leslie Lovell can be found a few blocks away at Roots Up Gallery, 6 E. Liberty Street.