Watercolor Spotlight: Hobcaw Barony

“Hobcaw Barony” is a 16,000 acre wildlife refuge north of Georgetown on the South Carolina Coast. While traveling south on Highway 17 from Myrtle Beach to Charleston it would be easy to pass by the Hobcaw Barony sign and gates at the entrance to this large tract of land and never know the treasure within. If however, you stop and visit the Discovery Center just behind the wrought iron gates you are given a portal into a southern version of “Narnia” where varied coastal landscape, indigenous wild life and amazing people dwell. Yes, it is that magical. The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, guardian of Belle Baruch’s vision for this land is currently working to preserve the historic homes and outbuildings located on the property while sustaining the landscape, wildlife, and educational mission. The University of South Carolina and Clemson University have research facilities in marine biology and coastal ecology and forest studies on the property. Hobcaw is an Indian name meaning “land between the waters” and this land is indeed bordered by Winyah Bay, the salt marshes of North Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. While on Scholarly Reassignment in the Spring of 2013, I had the privilege of encountering and interviewing experts on the historical, scientific, environmental and educational issues concerning Hobcaw and was very moved by the passion with which the scientists, historians, and educators spoke regarding the role their respective disciplines play here. Historians, while continuing research into the past, tell the story of this land and it’s people; the scientists are studying and monitoring the effects of climate change while the educators are sharing and disseminating the message of Hobcaw’s collective intelligence and natural beauty.

The paintings in this exhibition are an illustrative expression of Hobcaw Barony documenting my experience as an artist in residence during the spring and summer of 2013. The medium is watercolor paint on 300 lb. Arches cold press watercolor paper including several paintings collaged on Yupo (a synthetic paper). Over twenty five paintings were generated from the past eight months while painting on Hobcaw and the concept of this exhibit is to inform and visually document the landscape and the symbiotic relationship between human activity and the dynamic eco systems found here. Plein air painting, personal photography, archived photographs, sketchbook studies, journal writing, staff interviews and the study of numerous painters who work or who have worked in the watercolor medium became tools in the process of generating the final works. Painters and their watercolors that inspired me while working on this series were those of Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn and contemporaries Joseph Raffael, and Mary Whyte. The watercolor medium felt like the perfect material to be visually documenting this piece of land whose identity is tied to the waters that border it. In this technological age of moving pictures digitally generated from smart phones, videos and popular YouTube portals, I still believe a compelling hand-created image of a moment in time can give pause for reflection and open a window for human understanding.

Having once lived on Hobcaw Barony, my experience this past spring has re-awakened my appreciation for preservation and sustainability at a time when development here on the southeast coast of South Carolina is increasingly alarming. It is Belle’s legacy by way of preservation, conservation and education to the people of South Carolina through the natural beauty of Hobcaw Barony that this series of paintings pays tribute.

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