An Overnight Stay Checking Out the Visual Arts Scene in Florence County, SC, in the Heart of SC’s Pee Dee Area

Editor’s Note: This is pretty long but it covers a lot of visits.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about SC’s Pee Dee area:

The Pee Dee region of South Carolina is the northeastern corner of the state. It is the area of the lower watershed of the Pee Dee River, named after the Pee Dee Native American tribe. Its center is Florence. It also encompasses the Grand Strand, which includes the beaches running from the North Carolina state line to the Winyah Bay in Georgetown County in South Carolina.

On the coast, the area is predominantly involved in tourism and resorts with beaches, amusement parks, shopping, fishing, and golf. The area has become a major retirement center in the United States, in part because of its low cost of living and its many golf courses. Inland is a belt featuring rivers, marshes, Carolina bays and sandy rises where forestry is predominant, with pine plantations and bald cypress timbering.

Further inland, on higher ground, but still of only slight relief, is an agricultural belt of tobacco, cotton, soybeans and produce.

Florence, originally founded as a railroad center is a small, but growing center of production of pharmaceuticals, and other light industry. It is also known as a center of medical and dental care. The Pee Dee Region also produces paper, steel, and recreational vehicles.

I’ve included this description as I know many in SC wouldn’t have much experience with the Pee Dee. Most might be able to point out that is where Myrtle Beach is and South of the Border, which anyone who travels I-95 would say – they’ve seen the signs, but swear they have never visited that eye-sore. Right. And many would dispute that Myrtle Beach and Georgetown might be more part of an area known as the Grand Strand than part of the Pee Dee.

Having been born in Michigan, I wasn’t raised with the regional prejudices most born in SC have been raised on – I find all areas of SC interesting. Over the last three years of trying to tell artists about ArtFields©  in Lake City, which is found off Hwy. 52 in lower Florence County – mostly I get a blank stare back. I add the fact that it’s in the Pee Dee, but that doesn’t seem to get any better of a response. Finally I just say it’s off I-95 between Florence and Charleston.

I remember my first response to Florence was that it was bigger than I expected – as the city is rarely mentioned in the news. Most news coverage only mentions Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville or refers to the three areas as the Lowcountry, Midlands, and Upstate. Too bad if you live in Aiken, Sumter, Rock Hill, Spartanburg, or Florence. To this day, every time I travel to Florence I get to explore a little more each time and Florence continues to be bigger than I think it is or was.

For the last 3-5 years my attention has been focused on the growth of the visual arts community in the Pee Dee compared to other areas in SC, and in my opinion, it is the fastest growing area as far as the visual arts go. And I think I’m looking at just the tip of that growing community.

I live in Berkeley County, part of the Lowcounty, but I’m just 52 miles from the heart of downtown Lake City in the Pee Dee. I can drive there faster than I can to go to downtown Charleston, and when I get there I’ll find a parking spot within a few minutes and it will be free parking. Lake City is not Charleston, but those factors are important. Going on to Florence is maybe another 30 minutes, and again plenty of free parking is available.

Another factor that draws me to the Pee Dee is the fact that the folks there appreciate the attention I’ve been giving them, and it’s not always positive attention – ask the folks at ArtFields© who have had to put up with my 2 cents worth and more at times, and as you’ll read in this blog post – I’ve got a few cents to share with the folks at the new Florence County Museum. But, at least I’m paying attention to what they are doing. There’s not a lot of media coverage for the arts in SC, much less the visual arts, and “Carolina Arts” doesn’t have a lot of resources to waste time on making what I call “face” trips – where you just show up someplace to be seen. And, people who have followed me over the years have learned that I’m not afraid to tell it like I see it – even at the cost of losing support for the paper. I hope what I’m offering is mostly constructive criticism based on the 27 + years of doing an arts newspaper. I’ve seen a lot of art galleries and non-profits come and go and I also know what enables some to last the long distance of time. The arts are not an easy endeavour and it’s a rough business to be in.

OK – enough background.

This story begins about 3-4 weeks ago, when Jane Madden, a person responsible for me taking a second look at the Pee Dee (another story), shared a Facebook post made by Florence Unlocked, about a contest to win a Friday night stay at the Hotel Florence which opened May 2013, in what I call the emerging arts district of Florence. All you had to do is “Like” the post and say why you would want to stay there. I looked at a few of the comments, which seemed to be directed more at Victor’s Bistro, the hotel’s in-house restaurant. “I like the bar at Victor’s” and “I like sitting outdoors at Victor’s”.

Well, I thought I could do better than that and I wrote pretty much what I’ve been saying about this growing arts district and said that the hotel was smack dab in the middle of it all and a stay there would give me the opportunity to see Florence after dark. You see, just living an hour and a half away – at some point I have to drive home every time I visit the area – missing the after reception parties or anything else that would be going on later in the evening. I’m friends on Facebook and receive e-mails from several organizations who promote all these activities going on in Florence. So I knew what I was always missing on my drive back home.

To my surprise, that Friday morning I received an e-mail from Florence Unlocked that I had won that Friday night stay. That was good and bad. Good, in that it would give Linda a chance to see the “Francisco Goya: Los Caprichos” exhibition, I had been bragging about in Lake City and we could see a few exhibits in Florence, including the new Florence County Museum. Bad, as Linda, my better half, was in bed sick and I was already feeling that I wasn’t too far behind her. What a time to win a free stay at a hotel. I wondered in an e-mail with the folks at Florence Unlocked if the hotel might be willing to change the date of that stay. They said I’ll be getting an e-mail from them and I could call them and ask. No harm in asking, right?

Well the folks at Hotel Florence were very accommodating – after all, that’s what they do, and I rescheduled for two weeks later when Linda would be off again on a Friday and surely we would be feeling much better by then.

I later learned that not being able to go that Friday we missed the last Florence After Five event, a free concert given at James Allen Plaza (corner of Evans and S. Dargan Street – almost just outside the hotel doors) and the Florence Zombie Walk.

When the week of the rescheduled Friday stay came along, we were both still sick – sick enough to get me to visit our doctor’s after hours office. An event that doesn’t happen often by me. By Friday we were feeling better but we would have fit in well with that Zombie Walk. But I’m getting ahead of myself. On Thursday evening in Lake City, SC, the Jones-Carter Gallery, which is presenting a major show of prints by Goya were offering a free Goya Celebration, an evening of Spanish music and wine at the National Bean Market, next door to the gallery. I wanted to see how this event would go, so I was off to that concert, with guess what – an uncontrollable cough that could come on at any time. I planned to sit way in the back in case I had to suddenly leave.

The funny thing about this cough. I could talk with someone on the phone for 20 minutes or face to face for an hour and never cough, but the minute the conversation stopped – here it came. And, it was the kind of cough which caused most people to ask if I was OK.

Linda thought I was crazy to go, but everyone knows that, so what’s the difference. So there I was off to Lake City the Thursday evening before we where headed that way again Friday afternoon.

I got to Lake City about 45 minutes before the concert would start, I checked in at the Jones-Carter Gallery and got a photo of an image there I mentioned in an earlier blog post about the exhibit. It’s of a modern day version of Goya’s #3 plate, “Here comes the bogey-man”, showing David Duke in his best Klan robes by Enrique Chagoya (b. 1953), a Mexican-born painter and printmaker. Courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions.

Print by Enrique Chagoya of Goya’s Plate #3

Plate #3, by Francisco Goya, “Here comes the bogey-man”, 215 mm x 152 mm (8 1/2 x 6 in.) H. 38. Courtesy of Landau Traveling Exhibitions

I told the folks at the Jones-Carter Gallery who were presenting the concert that if they saw me leaving it wouldn’t be a comment on the concert, but just me trying to get out to where I could cough my lungs out of my body. No big deal. It happened only three times – once during an intermission, but I was always able to get outside before it happened. I stayed for the whole two-hour concert. It was that good.

I made this post on Facebook Friday morning about the concert: “I attended the Celebrating Goya concert, an evening of Spanish music and wine, hosted by the Jones-Carter Gallery last night in Lake City, SC. It was an awakening. I’ll fully admit that I have been pretty myopic when it comes to the visual arts over the last 20 + years of doing our paper about the visual arts in the Carolinas, but that wasn’t always the case. Our first arts publication started in 1987 in Charleston, SC, was about all the arts and long before that Linda and I had the opportunity to enjoy much of what the Spoleto Festival USA had to offer, but it wasn’t until last night that I realized how much I missed the performing arts. There just isn’t enough time for it all. The National Bean Market isn’t the historic Dock Street Theatre but the performance offered was as good as any I’ve seen at the Dock Street during Spoleto. The Community Museum Society in Lake City which operates the Jones-Carter Gallery and now ArtFields© has gained a reputation in my book of doing things first class. Last night’s concert was another example. And the concert was free! More about this later.”

The concert presented the talents of husband and wife team, Paolo André Gualdi (piano) and Danijela Zezelj-Gualdi (violin), both of Florence, SC, and Matthew Anderson (guitar) of Atlanta, GA. Paolo André Gualdi is an Associate Professor of Music at Francis Marion University in Florence, who has many connections to pull such amazing concerts together for a concert series in Lake City.

I didn’t take many photos during the concert – I just don’t think that’s the thing to do during a performance, but I did take a photo of the “house” piano at the National Bean Market – the Bosendorfer Grand Imperial 290 Piano.


The Bosendorfer Grand Imperial 290 Piano is unique and as far as the folks in Lake City know, is the only one in South Carolina. Originally built following a suggestion by composer Ferruccio Busoni, the Imperial has 97 keys, i.e. eight full octaves. This expanded range allows faithful performances of a number of compositions by Bartók, Debussy, Ravel and, not least of all, Busoni. Its commanding presence in some of the world’s great concert halls sets the standard by which other grand pianos are judged. It is the world’s most expensive piano, handmade in Austria. And, just another example of the folks in Lake City going first class.

At this point I want to tell you there are three main points I want to make you aware of after reading this blog post. First, it’s free admission to the facilities I’ll be mentioning. Second, the concert was free, and third, the parking is plentiful and free. Now, that’s not true in other cities in SC offering events of this caliber. And, while gas is cheap – as cheap as it’s been in a long time, it makes these offering even more attractive.

The concert and wine offering (also free) were designed to complement the Goya exhibition. The gallery was open before and after the concert and music was selected with Goya in mind. One of the selections played by Matthew Anderson on guitar was written with Goya’s name sounded out. “Carmen Fantasy, op 25” was appropriate in that it’s a piece of music most people recognize as it has been used as background music for many cartoons and Goya’s prints remind most people of modern day editorial cartoons seen in most newspapers.

I had to pass on the wine tasting as I still had to drive back home and I’m not much of a wine drinker anyway, if they had some Sangria I might have been tempted, but I know not to drink and drive on rural roads during deer season. Well, I just don’t drink and drive. But, I could see other people were enjoying the wine. I made it home safely.

So, Friday afternoon, Linda and I headed back to Lake City so she could see the exhibition and I could talk shop. That’s what I do best. I did some of that Thursday evening too. And, a lot more during Friday and Saturday in Florence. I can’t tell you everything I talked about and who I was talking with or they wouldn’t talk with me again, but there are some things people hope I will turn over to you and one of those things is how lucky the folks in the Pee Dee are, especially in Florence County – having a few patron saints who are supporting all these developing art events and facilities.

Of course Lake City has Darla Moore and Florence has the Doctors Bruce and Lee Foundation. There are others involved but these are the two cornerstones behind what’s happening in the Pee Dee as far as the arts go and much more. And, the word people involved in this effort want me to share with you is – you ain’t seen nothing yet or you haven’t seen the last of their efforts. Simply speaking, there are a lot of plans on the table and a lot of money to make it all happen. I’ve heard some staggering figures that would make other cities drool at the prospects of what they could do with that kind of funding.

It was time to head on to Florence for check in at the Hotel Florence, but we couldn’t leave Lake City without getting a shot of Alex Palkovich’s new statue of Huey Cooper (1873 – 1978), one of Lake City’s most unique citizens who for a nickle would let you rub the rabbit’s foot he carried around with him for luck. I ran into Palkovich at the concert and he showed me his latest work installed in Lake City, on his phone – just another contribution by Darla Moore to the community. Palkovich is a Florence sculptor – local talent.



It hasn’t taken me too long to realize that when it comes to showcasing art or artistic talents in the Pee Dee, the folks who are putting up the money are looking within the community to see if the artists living there can provide their needs first. That always won’t be the case but they are very loyal to the talented artists of the Pee Dee, and there are more there than you might think.

Again, good artists, very talented artists can be found in other areas of SC than just Charleston, Columbia or Greenville. So it won’t be too long before more artists start thinking that the Pee Dee might be a good place to set up shop.


We checked into Hotel Florence, an Ascend Hotel Collection Member, which was fantastic. This was a great renovation project of a group of old merchant buildings on Evans Street. They left some details of the character of the old buildings which was a nice touch. And here again, the lobby was full of artworks by local artists. We had an original photograph by Donna Goodman in our room, who used to teach photography at Francis Marion University, which was interesting. Back in Lake City Thursday night, as I was driving down Main Street when I passed the just opened Inn at the Crossroads in downtown Lake City, I noticed that art was hanging on their walls in the lobby area and I later learned that it was mostly photographs by Donna Goodman taken at Moore Farms Botanical Gardens and a few works from the first two ArtFields© events. Loyalty, Loyalty, Loyalty.

“Red Bridge at Magnolia,” by Jaclyn Wukela in hotel lobby

“Past and Present,” by Lynda English in hotel lobby

Once we got everything in our room and composed ourselves, we went out to have dinner. Giving Florence some  ATax money back.

After dinner we went back to the hotel and prepared to go to an opening reception for an exhibit at The Clay Pot Coffee Shop on S. Dargan, just around the corner from the hotel and across the street from the newly opened Florence County Museum. “Adolescence In Flight: Reflections Seen and Observed,” an exhibition of works by Uschi Jeffcoat, would be on view through Feb. 28, 2015. Jeffcoat is the new director of The Florence Regional Arts Alliance, who was also presenting an exhibit at the Art Trail Gallery, almost across the street from the Hotel Florence. It really is in the heart of the growing arts district in Florence.

The Clay Pot Coffee Shop is run by a woman who is also a potter, hence the name, and she has given up a good amount of her space for not only art exhibits, but performances of music and poetry. It’s part of a number of restaurants and cafes that have opened in the area – across from the Florence County Museum and not far from the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center, also within walking distance of Hotel Florence.

Jeffcoat’s exhibit is small, but focused, and it’s easy to recognize her talents with the watercolor medium. That word “focused” is important. For years I have been trying to encourage the folks at the Art Trail Gallery in Florence, now in it’s second location since opening, to present more “themed” or “focused” exhibits. Most of the exhibits they present are intended to give visual artists – professional and amateur alike – an opportunity to display their art to the public. Which is a good policy for the artists in the area, where there is not a big commercial gallery community, but after awhile those shows get a little repetitive – different works but by the same artists.



So, one of the first shows presented at the Art Trail Gallery under the new leadership of Jeffcoat was a “focused” and “themed” exhibit – “Small Works Show”. The show was made up of works of artists who were mostly students, instructors, or people related to Francis Marion University.

So, Saturday morning after breakfast and checking out of the Hotel Florence, we headed down the street to the Art Trail Gallery on Evans Street to see the “Small Works Show,” presented by the The Florence Regional Arts Alliance, on view through Nov. 20, 2014.

As we walked out of the front door of Hotel Florence, I turned to Linda and said, “Best checkout ever!” You just can’t beat free. Thank you Jane Madden, Florence Unlocked, and Hotel Florence. I hope to give them back their fair share of promotion in the future.

This exhibit was just what I’ve been calling for. There were about 35 + small works of various media, I would have liked to see more craft works included, but there was plenty of small gems to view. I’ve got a few images of works I liked, but not all, as some were behind glass and hard to photograph, but there was one big surprise on view.

I usually don’t agree with jurors and what they select to give awards to, but this time I was in total agreement. Kara Warren, the juror from Asheville, NC, had selected a small photograph by Paolo André Gauldi as the First Place winner. Where had I heard that name before?

“The Swimmer,” by Paolo André Gualdi, photography

Gauldi was the Francis Marion University Music Professor who played the piano at the Thursday night concert in Lake City. It’s not fair for people to be so talented in several artistic mediums – when most of us can’t handle one.

“Dusk Orange,” by Douglas Gray, sagger fired solf brick tiles and encaustic medium

“Kitchen Sink,” by Laurie Roche, acrylic

“Solitude,” by Kathleen Kennebeck, photography

“Cluster,” Hayley Douglas, stonewarw and glass, cone 10 reduction

The other benefit of planning a “focused” or “themed” exhibit is that you can plan the schedule of the exhibit so you can also present a well done exhibit handout with a list of all the participants, info about the juror, a thank you to sponsors and announced award winners. When you know what you’ll have ahead of time, you can also promote what you’ll be presenting ahead of time. When you’re taking in entries the day before the show opens – you don’t know what you’ll get and it’s very hard to tell people ahead of time what you’ll be presenting – as you just don’t know what you’ll get.

I’ve got nothing against giving artists an opportunity to show and sell their work but every once in awhile it would be good to feature one artist or several artists in a themed exhibit.

Next up was Linda’s first visit to the new Florence County Museum. This was actually my second visit as I had gone there before on the same day I first viewed the Francisco Goya show in Lake City, but I wanted to hold off on giving my 2 cents worth – to see if some changes were made to a couple of items I found on my first visit.

The Museum is presenting “Selections from the Wright Collection of Southern Art,” which features thirty works from the Florence County Museum’s recently acquired portion of the Wright Collection of Southern Art. The Wright Collection of Southern Art features 141 works collected over 45 years by former Florence pathologist, Dr. Louis Wright. The exhibit is on view through Jan. 1, 2016. The second exhibit is “William H. Johnson: New Beginnings,” featuring twenty one works from the life of Florence native, William Henry Johnson (1901-1970), on view through Oct. 5, 2015. Both exhibits will be on view for over a year so there was no hurry on reporting what I saw.

The new Museum is a major step up from the old facility they had for many a year and is also better located in the heart of Florence in the new emerging arts district – across the street from the relatively new Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center. The lobby is a huge space with a lot of unused white space – except for one large painting hanging over the front information desk. The lobby also overlooks an outdoor space that is landscaped with decorative plants and trees, with a few Lowcountry Joggling Boards and a few objects.

The exhibit spaces are top notch as well as the historical display areas. The building is in a “U” shape with exhibit areas toward the front and classrooms and storage areas in the wings, on two stories. The one thing I liked about the art galleries was that you could take photos as long as you didn’t use flash. And the exhibit spaces are well lighted.

Both exhibitions were filled with excellent works and offered good descriptions and insight into the works on display.

View of “William H. Johnson: New Beginnings,” exhibit.

William H. Johnson (American, 1901 – 1970) “Evening” oil on burlap, ca. 1941

View of “Selections from the Wright Collection of Southern Art,” exhibit

(L) Alred Hutty (American, 1877 – 1954) Study for “At the Wedding” graphite on paper, ca. 1930 and (R) Alfred Hutty (American, 1877 – 1954) “At the Wedding” watercolor on paper, ca. 1930

But, I have a pet peeve when it comes to art exhibits. I don’t like viewing works that are not identified. And, in a major museum – unidentified works are a real problem. In the very large lobby full of lots of white space the one work hanging over the front desk was not identified and upstairs next to the Wright Collection exhibit, there was a room with works hung on the wall behind thick glass walls. A sign stated this was an example of how the Museum stored works that were not on display. I could read a signature on one work, was pretty sure I knew who the artists were on display, but how many other people would? I knew who the artist was of the work in the lobby, but how many others visiting would? When it’s the only work on display in a large room of empty white walls – you have to think it must be a pretty important painting. But how many people would ask about it?

When I finished viewing the exhibits, taking photos, and writing notes, I went down to that front desk to ask some questions. As is the case when visiting most exhibits, I don’t identify myself as someone who might be making public comments about what I see. I don’t want any special treatment. I’ve learned that once they know who you are and why you are there you are instantly being lobbied about something or someone wants to walk you through the exhibit offering explanations.

In their favor, the folks at the desk came up with the name of the artist who made the work hanging over their head. In this case, it was a work by the late Charleston, SC, artist, Manning Williams. They didn’t come up with a good explanation as to why the work wasn’t identified. During the discussion of why the works were not identified in their example of how they store their collection, someone from the curatorial staff walked up and explained that it was just an example of how they store their works. But this person couldn’t come up with a good reason for not identifying works. A visit to a Museum is supposed to be a learning experience. I see these events as missed opportunities for educating visitors to recognize certain artist’s styles.

I also asked, since both art exhibits will be up for over a year, what will bring people who have visited once, back for another visit. I was told they planned to rotate new works into the Wright Collection. I asked how would I know that. They just stared back at me.

I’ve yet to receive a press release about either show. When I told them they missed our Oct. issue deadline, they said they e-mailed them – check my spam file. We don’t use a spam filter because people who send us mail have a hard time putting who they are or what they are sending in the subject line. I’ve found press releases in e-mail that I would have never thought were something for us. I said I didn’t receive any and asked them to send it again – what I got was a picture of a press release – which I can’t use. Then they missed the deadline for the Nov. issue and I’m not sure we’ll ever get one.

When these folks were in their old facility I used to receive e-mails with the name of an old director who had been gone for about 4-5 years.

So, I didn’t say anything about my first visit to the Florence County Museum hoping that when I returned changes would be made, and I can say that on this return visit there still was no identifying tag on the Manning Williams work and there was no identifying tags on the works up in the glass “storage” area. What was different this time is they took the sign down explaining that this was an example of how they store things, so as people discover this room off the Wright exhibit they won’t know what it is at all. Also since I had already seen the exhibits I went outside in the  open space while Linda was looking and found several objects on pedestals that also were not identified. Upon leaving I asked who did the painting in the lobby and they quickly said Manning Williams, and gave a short speech about who he was. Linda asked if I didn’t want to ask them something else about the room upstairs. I declined.


Are these artifacts saved from Florence’s old shipbuilding days?

Is this a large beehive or a work of art? Don’t know, it wasn’t identified.

You see, when I first heard about the plan to build a new Museum in the downtown area of Florence I stated, I hope they get new leadership because I didn’t think the guys running the old facility knew what they were doing. I still feel the same. But besides all that, I still want you to go see these exhibits and the history sections about Florence and Florence County – and go soon. Admission to this facility may not be free for too much longer. What we have is a new building, but the same old leadership, which soon will lead to people in Florence not noticing the difference.

Our next stop was the Pee Dee Artisan Holiday Market at the Florence Civic Center, over near the I-95 and I-20 connections.

We drove into one of the parking lots and there were no cars there. I wondered if I had gotten the date wrong , but there was a small sign saying the Pee Dee Artisan’s Market. We almost left but we drove around and found the Florence Visitors Center and I went in and asked if it was going on today. They told me it was – down below in a back parking lot. Sure enough there it was and lots of cars were there. They need bigger and better signage for folks who don’t know the Civic Center.



Once inside we started looking around at all the items being offered. About a third of the booths were offering jewelry – which I think is the big thing in craft shows these days. Linda was in heaven. We looked and looked and looked. At one point I had to go outside for one of my coughing spells. We saw one booth of a person I’m friends with on Facebook, but she wasn’t there at the time, and ran into the Earring Lady who puts on shows with Jane Madden and her scarves. I kept trying to encourage Linda to buy something, but although she saw lots of things she liked, she was being a good person – we’ve been pinching pennies lately, but we took some cards which might lead to some sales down the road in better times. Eventually we were looked out.

We had lunch in Florence and then headed home. We saw lots of art and it was good not to be in a hurry for once. It took all day Sunday to recover from our 27 hour stay in Florence County.


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