JOE PINCKNEY

JOE PINCKNEY

We’re heading for Hilton Head tomorrow which means that sometime in the mid-afternoon, I’ll be thinking about Joe Pinckney. He’s always on my mind when we head down there, but even if he weren’t, the sign that calls attention to the Pinckney Colony would remind me.

Pinckney Colony is on the mainland in Beaufort County. The name always intrigued me, but intrigue became lively curiosity about 25 years ago when my son, Christian, and I were sitting around in Port Royal Plantation leafing through the local telephone book. We might have been looking for people named Paolino — unlikely in those parts, or people who share Pat’s family name — Kamieniecki — perhaps more unlikely. What caught our attention, though, was the list of folks named Pinckney. So we picked one out — Joe Pinckney — jotted down his address and set out to find him.

PAINTING BY JOE PINCKNEY

PAINTING BY JOE PINCKNEY

He was in his studio, and when we told him why we were interrupting his work, he greeted us as though there were nothing peculiar about two strangers from Jersey picking his name out of a phone book and dropping in unannounced. He spent a long time with us, showing us his work and telling us his personal history.

He was born in New York, but during World War II he moved as a boy to the Low Country of South Carolina, where his parents were born. The stories I have read about him don’t go into this, but he told us the move back south was motivated by his family’s fear — a fear shared by many in those days — that Nazi Germany would attack the Northeast Coast from the sea. It was quite an adjustment for Joe. He was dazzled by the sight of the night sky, unobstructed by the artifical light of the city. He also had to get accustomed to an unfamiliar cuisine, and he absorbed some of the local dialect.

PAINTING BY JOE PINCKNEY

PAINTING BY JOE PINCKNEY

Joe Pinckney studied art in New York and received a scholarship from the Norman Rockwell Foundation, but he became a permanent resident of South Carolina and spent several decades  creating a body of work that depicts the culture of the Gullah people who have lived and farmed in the Low Country since the 19th century. He died in November 2005.

I have my son’s inquisitive nature to thank for the fact that we visited Joe Pinckney. Our whole family loves Hilton Head and we have vacationed there often, but in a way every vacation was like every other one, except for the one blessed by that gracious and gifted man.

The Pinckney Colony was founded by a family of white farmers, and I don’t think Joe explained whether his forbears had adopted that name or if the names were coincidental. After spending time in his company, maybe it didn’t matter to us any more.

There is a story about Joe Pinckney at this link: http://www.blufftontoday.com/node/3053

Four of Joe’s paintings, including the two I have included in this journal, are at the web site of the J. Costello Gallery in Hilton Head: http://www.jcostellogallery.com/artists/joe-pinckney

JOE PINCKNEY

JOE PINCKNEY

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