Thursday, 28 February 2013

A Love of Nature: Anne Worsham Richardson’s niece remembers the artist’s extraordinary life

There’s a story behind every bird,” Anne Maree Lawrence assures me as she takes me on a tour of the art and passionate life of her beloved aunt, Anne Worsham Richardson. Richardson, the official painter of South Carolina’s state bird, flower and butterfly, passed away last fall. Nevertheless, inside her Birds I View Gallery on Church Street, one can still become acquainted with the artist and her far-from ordinary life.

Lawrence points to a wall carefully adorned with intricate paintings of birds created by someone who knew the soul of her every subject. Richardson was a natural naturalist. “She did all of these paintings from live birds. She had a sanctuary where she took in injured birds and baby birds and nursed them back to health. She just did it. It was innate.”
From the time that she realized her talent, Richardson painted every day of her life— and it all began with watercolors while in her highchair. “She recalled painting something for her father,” Lawrence explains, “and he didn’t believe she did it, so she had to redo it.”

Her remarkable career began at Kress Department Store on King Street as the designer of its window displays and backdrops. But it was while she studied animal skeletons at the Charleston Museum that her lifelong devotion to birds would begin after the curator of the Natural History Society invited her to “study the animals with some clothes on.” So she put on her boots and joined the Society on birdwatching trips. It was then that her birdpainting days began. Little did she know that this would be her lifelong pursuit!

Among the animals she befriended and painted was a baby barn owl she found injured on Radcliffe Street as well as a pelican she rescued from wandering around the Charleston Battery. She nursed a fawn whose mother was run over by car near the naval base. She also cared for many egrets, including one who lost a foot in a drainage ditch yet was eventually strong enough to fly away. A cardinal who lived with her for 18 years was delivered by a local lady who discovered the baby bird after its mother was eaten by a cat. Richardson placed the cardinal in a homemade incubator and nursed it back to health.
But what came first…the art or the animals? “She loved them equally,” Lawrence says. “She loved to be able to paint so people could appreciate nature. She always said if her art could show people, in just a little way, to respect nature and to have respect for all wild things, that she’d done her job.”

Lawrence, who says Richardson’s love for nature runs in the family, has plenty of plans to continue her aunt’s legacy. For starters, she will invite Richardson’s art-world friends to show their own work at Birds I View. The gallery will also continue to offer a framing service, as it has done for many years. She also wants to publish a book of illustrations Richardson created of birds in various stages of life. Additionally, there are original works that, over time, she may be able to let go of, as well as many other pieces that are signed.

“I always felt like her work would be on display publicly,” Lawrence says, “so we’re going to try to keep that going for as long as we can.”

Published in Charleston Style and Design

Canine unleashes community creativity

In Lowcountry Dog Feb/March 2013 issue:

From Pop Tart portraits to kings, Kevin Hanley keeps it weird

by Kelly Rae Smith

"My resume is all over the place," Kevin Hanley says. "I've bussed tables, washed dishes, dug drainage, delivered pizzas, bartended, worked in stained glass and restoration, run a quasi-record label, directed a nonprofit art organization for a spell, designed instructional software for the Air Force and Boeing, delivered sailboats, and tons of freelance graphic and web work."

Hanley has been a busy guy. Lately, you could probably just narrow him down to a multimedia artist and musician, as well as a current roadie for Shovels and Rope. Fortunately, he has taken a minute or two away from a soundcheck to talk to the City Paper about Pop Tarts and how he's using a down-on-his-luck king to kickstart his latest adventure.

On a whim just over a year ago, Hanley came up with the savvy and viral Self-Pop Tart blog. He used Photoshop to swap out smart phones for Pop Tarts in random people's self-portrait pics, never imagining anyone other than close pals would ever see it. Fans apparently enjoyed the absurdity of people like Bill Murray and Zooey Deschanel reflecting in the mirror holding that famous rectangular pastry, and before long that silly but cleverly imaginative website caught fire. Hanley began filling Self Pop Tart requests from as far away as China. Even celebrities came knocking.

"When Pete Wentz e-mailed me directly with a request to 'pop tart' his girlfriend, while I was watching The Muppets movie, I actually walked out of the theater and just sat in Union Square grinning for a moment," Hanley says. "It was so absurd. It was a fun two or three weeks, and I've been told by prospective clients and employers that having it on my resume prompted their call. So that's pretty good."

Since then, those wheels of his have kept turning and landed him in the present with Sire for Hire, an adorably smart cartoon and accompanying interactive website for children created by Hanley. Sire is a king who learns a lot of life lessons on the road with his best friend, Wizard.

"It's the tale of an unemployed king," Hanley says. "He was exiled from his realm for being a little tyrant. The grand arc of the story is that of redemption. But in each episode, the king will learn something new that will make him a better person overall and allow him to return to his throne and his people. It's also about adventure and fun. And silliness."

Sire for Hire evolved through the collective talents of Hanley and a few friends. "Local musicians Joel Hamilton and Jack Burg are collaborators and the voices so far, and Brad Edwardson has contributed a really beautiful track to the first episode," Hanley says. "I can't remember when the idea formed. But I love wordplay and I'm sure it stemmed from the title alone. It was initially going to be a children's book, but I wanted to go interactive and animated with it. I know that once Jack, Joel, and myself started experimenting with voices, it was clear that this had to happen. And it's probably a little autobiographical — not to say that I'm kingly, just that I have a hard time keeping steady in one role or job."

What Hanley and his crew do have is the skill and the will, and they're now trying to raise the cash to get the dream off the ground. "There are many costs involved in creating a decent animated short," Hanley says. "Up until now, all the work has been done for free whenever those involved had the time. I would like to at least become a break-even operation, and I would like to hire some more hands to get the work done faster."

The idea is to raise enough money via private backers in time for a late spring release. The funds would allow for a huge collaboration between artists, musicians, students, voice actors, app designers, and more, which is their long-term goal. But first, Hanley wants to complete the pilot episode and accompanying interactive games, which will be hosted online.

Stay tuned to to see the forthcoming adventures of the king and his wizard.

Published here in the Charleston City Paper

Chicken and waffles strike a perfect balance

by Kelly Rae Smith

Brunch in Charleston got real about eight years ago when a big dish called chicken and waffles showed up. Back in the day, I spent an alarming amount of time at A.C.'s Bar and Grill and was convinced that they had invented this strangely good combination. Fried chicken, fluffy waffles, sticky syrup — the ingredients were simple, but the combination was sublime. Of course, chicken and waffles pre-dates its appearance on A.C.'s brunch menu, as I eventually learned. Indeed, it's a classic soul food star from the 1930s with a debatable origin story that boils down to two cities vying for the chicken and waffle crown.

"There's definitely a point of contention where it started: Harlem or Atlanta," Leigh-Ann Gobel, A.C.'s manager, says. "And I'd like to think it was Atlanta because of Southern-fried chicken — and my Southern bias."

Roscoe's House of Chicken & Waffles in Los Angeles has also had a hand in spreading the chicken and waffle gospel, especially since the institution's signature dish has been famously noted by the likes of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air as well as Ludacris (in "Call Up the Homies") and Notorious B.I.G. (in "Going Back to Cali").

Early Bird Diner's chef/owner Dexter Haigler admits he first heard of Roscoe's chicken and waffles from Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, while Fuel's chef/owner Justin Broome got wind of it in his travels out West. But Roscoe is originally from Harlem, so it looks like that city might deserve most of the credit.

Regardless of where it began, you need not travel all the way to Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles in Atlanta or to Harlem for the Sunday gospel brunch at Sylvia's Restaurant in order to get a good ol' heapin' helpin' of fried, syrupy goodness. The dish has gained fame at a handful of local establishments — and even Waffle House featured it as a special on New Year's Day — but when the trend hit Charleston, it did so in an unsuspecting, dimly lit dive bar on King Street eight years ago.

A.C.'s version of the dish starts with fried chicken tenders and a fluffy Belgian-style waffle. Sweet maple syrup melds it all together into a sweet and savory darling. The flavor combination is classic.

"I feel like the sweet and savory really go well together," says Dexter Haigler over at Early Bird Diner. "And it's a really indulgent experience when you can experience both of those flavors at the same time."

Early Bird's version of chicken and waffles has been a big seller but was added to the menu only about three or four months ago. "When we first started doing that dish we didn't necessarily intend on it being on the regular menu," Haigler says. "We ran it as a special a few times, and we were planning on making it a blue plate special one day of the week or something, but people demanded it. For a long time, we'd run it on Saturdays and Sundays, but we had enough times where people would come in wanting that, and if we didn't have it then they would just leave. So we put it on the menu."

Their version starts with boneless chicken breast and ground pecan flour. The chicken is battered, fried, and served over a big waffle with maple syrup and honey mustard made from local honey. "I'm not really the type of person to say we do the best chicken and waffles in the city because I feel like this is a great city for food," Haigler says. "I don't think we really need to be competitive because we're really not gonna run out of hungry people, but I'd bet it's a fact that we do the most. It seems like it would be the most. We go through about two or three hundred pounds of chicken a week."

Lowcountry Bistro has seen the same demand for the dish. "Chicken and waffles has been our signature dish from the start. It's been outselling sweet tea," says Chef de Cuisine Matt Paul, who co-created the menu with 82 Queen Executive Chef Steve Lusby when the little-sister bistro opened on the market last summer.

"I'm from the Amish country originally, and we do a different take on it up there, actually, where it's shredded chicken with gravy on top, like a breakfast item more than anything," says Paul, whose "favorite thing in the world" is chocolate-covered pretzels. "What I love about the combo is the sweet and salty; it seems like it's the perfect combination."

Although Lowcountry Bistro does not follow the Amish way, theirs is different from any other chicken and waffles in town. "It's a three-day step just to get that chicken on the plate, so it's a very big part of this restaurant," Paul says. The chicken is halved, brined for 24 hours, made into confit, and finally fried. They serve it on the bone with both dark and white meat and a scoop of pecan butter on top. The result is tender and delicious, but the kicker is the housemade waffle. "We do a sweet potato, bacon, and cornbread waffle so we fold in roasted sweet potatoes," Paul says. "And we use the ingredients that go well with sweet potatoes like nutmeg, chili powder, and we fold in bacon right at the very end with the cornbread mix, so you're really getting that Lowcountry feel to it."

Fuel has its own signature version of the dish. The super crispy chicken fingers are encrusted in Ritz crackers and placed atop two vanilla-flavored waffles, with Fuel's special syrup, a Tabasco-infused honey. It's not on the menu, so be sure to ask your server for some.

Over at the newly opened Rarebit, owner John Adamson says chicken and waffles was the first item he put on the menu. "I'm really big into balance in general about anything," Adamson says. "I felt like the chicken and waffles helped bring it down a notch, if that makes sense. It says that we're not taking ourselves too seriously. This is just a casual place where you can get an affordable meal, where everything's made in-house, and hopefully, it's exactly what you expect it to be."

Rarebit's take on the dish is neither fancy nor freakish, but it is an incredibly tasty, perfectly done piece of boneless, skinless, crispy fried chicken. Chef Mike Gaia uses a chili powder concoction that makes it sing and serves it atop a Belgian-style waffle that's made to order.

"I think what we're doing different is that we're not trying to be different," Adamson says. "That's a waffle, an excellent waffle, but it's a waffle. With an awesome chicken breast, and it's breaded and fried and really crispy, and spicy, and delicious."

And that's what chicken and waffles comes down to. It's a simple concoction, and with quality components, can add up to be something quite spectacular. Oh, who are we kidding. Even if you use a frozen chicken tender and a Bisquick waffle, this is a pretty tasty combination.

Published here in the Charleston City Paper

The Gibbes highlights tumultuous eras in new exhibit

by Kelly Rae Smith

Nothing says "turn the page" quite like looking back at the events that have shaped us, and that's why the Gibbes Museum of Art is kicking off the new year with two dynamic exhibitions that illustrate stories from significant periods in American history.

Opening Jan. 11, Witness to History: Civil Rights Era Photographs by James Karales features moving images from Dr. Martin Luther King's 1960s, while Vibrant Vision: The Collection of Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman gives viewers a tiny glimpse into the couple's expansive 35-year-long assemblage of diverse, multicultural art.

The museum chose to display the Civil Rights-era photographs of Karales to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of desegregation in South Carolina public schools. Karales, who worked for Look Magazine in the 1960s, created powerful images of the era during his travels with Dr. Martin Luther King. "Selma to Montgomery March," arguably his most recognizable piece, will be among the works exhibited through May 12.

"It's essentially the kind of iconic image associated with that particular day," says curator Sara Arnold. "Dr. Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders are stepping out in unison, and it's just this long train of people marching — so many people that it looks like an endless line. And there's this dark, ominous cloud hanging over them but they are determinedly marching forward, and it sort of transcends the whole purpose of the march. It's incredibly memorable, so it's lived on as very symbolic of that particular event."

Karales, who made a name for himself with extraordinary images of the integrated coal-mining town of Rendville, Ohio, captured moments the world would have otherwise never seen, like the intimate space of King's kitchen. "There's another fantastic image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Arnold says, "and he's sitting with his daughter in their home at their kitchen table, and apparently it was one of those published in Look Magazine around 1962 or 1963. He's explaining to his daughter why she is not allowed to visit the segregated amusement park in Atlanta, and it's just this very poignant image where you can see he is sort of trying to explain something that is really unexplainable." Witness to History will feature this image, along with the Rendville photographs that launched Karales' career, in the Rotunda Gallery.

Running concurrently in the Main Gallery is Jonathan Green and Richard Weedman's Vibrant Vision. The two have been collecting art for almost as long as they've been together as a couple, unified in their mutual recognition of the importance of preserving art that is historically significant. Although only an excerpt will be exhibited, their 1,300-strong collection of paintings, sculpture, and works on paper explores themes of love, spirituality, and belonging. Featured artists hail from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, though the most significant portion of art comes from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) era of the 1930s and 1940s, including art that vividly portrays a range of emotions, from the tenderness between parent and child to hard-fought struggles for racial equality.

"The WPA was so important because it provided unprecedented government support to artists," curator Pamela Wall says. "In addition to financial support, the WPA art centers provided artists with access to expensive equipment, such as printing presses, and fostered collaboration among artists. All of these factors resulted in great artistic output during the WPA era."

Despite the disappearance of much of the era's art, Green and Weedman have been able to recover a great deal of the works, and the exhibition is a unique opportunity for the public to witness these and other pieces that inspire them. Green is also displaying a few of his own paintings.

The sharing doesn't stop there. Both Green and Weedman will personally lead one tour per month of the exhibition's run, and they're free. Additionally, there's a mobile website where viewers can expand upon the experience in the galleries, and QR codes will accompany the pieces, presenting a myriad of information attendees can surf through to make the time spent with this influential art all the more rewarding.

"I think this is a period that is sometimes overlooked," Wall says, "but with the strength and quality of the artwork, I really think there's a lot people can enjoy and learn."

Published here in the Charleston City Paper

S.C. Federal Credit Union presents Beardmageddon 2.0

Full disclosure: Not all of the performers in Beardmageddon have beards. In fact, only one of them, Jason Groce, has facial hair. But he has enough to make up for the silky smooth complexions of Greg Tavares, Brandy Sullivan, and Jessica Mickey.

Sponsored and co-conceived by the S.C. Federal Credit Union, Beardmageddon 2.0 is the sequel to last year's hit one-hour improv gameshow. "It's a night of celebration for beards of all kinds," says Darryl LaPlante, spokesperson for Young and Free S.C. for the SC Federal Credit Union. "There are no assigned roles in this show, and that's the great thing about improv: the actors can be whoever they want and do whatever they want for a short period of time. Hilarity always ensues."

Once again, the reliably ridiculous Theatre 99 crew will host several games, including ones involving audience participation during which a lucky attendee will be interviewed. The cast will then do several scenes inspired by that person. "It's the kind of show that really brings everybody in it together," Sullivan says.

Theatre 99, a Charleston favorite since 1995, is known for producing short and sweet comedy, and Beardmageddon 2.0 will be the only short-form show at the festival. But what really differentiates the show from the rest of the fest is this foursome and the randomness they'll undoubtedly bring. "Every time you come to Theatre 99," Sullivan says, "it's like the first time."

Want to go for free? Young and Free S.C., the S.C. Federal Credit Union's voice for the under-25 set, wants you to send in your favorite joke for a chance to win. See for more info. The drawing is on January 16. —Kelly Smith

Thurs. Jan. 17, 6.30 p.m. $8. Theatre 99

Published here in the Charleston City Paper