irst published: Summer 1998

The context for the development of Sam Doyle's career is as interesting as the artist and his art. The eighth of nine children born to Thomas Sr. and Sue Ladsen Doyle of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, Thomas Samuel Doyle grew up in an area steeped in African American history and culture. Doyle's youth was spent in relative isolation in the Wallace Community of St. Helena Island, which was then physically and culturally removed from the Beaufort mainland. A connecting bridge was not constructed until 1927. During the early decades of the twentieth century, St. Helena was a unique and predominantly African American community comprised largely of the descendants of former slaves who retained much of their African heritage and memories of the slave experience. Many slaves on St. Helena Island were held by absentee owners, and left relatively free to continue to practice the cultural traditions of their homeland. Doyle had vivid recollections of the descendants of slaves who told him stories of plantation slavemasters, slave atrocities and supernatural occurrences. Those stories appeared frequently in Doyle's art.

 

 

The Wallace Community in which Doyle lived was originally populated almost exclusively by freed slaves, formerly owned by a plantation slavemaster whose surname was Wallace. Doyle attended the nearby Penn School through the ninth grade, and then dropped out to work as a clerk in a neighbourhood store. While Doyle was a student at Penn School, the first school established in the South for free blacks, one of his teachers noticed his drawing ability and encouraged him to travel north with her sister to study art. He declined to leave his roots on St. Helena Island, and remained in that vicinity throughout his life.
 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #23.

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