Heading to Beaufort? Stop and rest a while on artful benches

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Artist Omar Patterson sits on the "Lowcountry Dreaming" bench he created for the Beaufort Black Chamber of Commerce. COURTESY BEAUFORT CULTURAL DISTRICT ADVISORY BOARD

Residents and visitors to the City of Beaufort might notice new painted benches dotted around downtown, offering a respite for people who want to sit for a few moments.

In late January, the benches were placed in six locations throughout downtown.

The bench project, under the auspices of the Beaufort Cultural District Advisory Board (CDAB), began about a year-and-a-half-ago. Robb Wells, president and CEO of the Greater Beaufort & Port Royal Convention & Visitors Bureau and at the time a member of the CDAB, said that visitors indicated in surveys that Beaufort did not offer enough seating downtown to allow them to sit and "take it all in."

"The CDAB wanted to create a solution that would foster collaboration, offers local artists visibility, and provide the seating that people said they wanted," said Rhonda Carey, a member of the CDAB and downtown events coordinator for the city.

The collaboration began with Lowcountry Habitat for Humanity, whose carpenters built each 4-foot-long bench. "This served as the 'canvas' for each artist," Carey said.

Six partner organizations were asked to work with their artists to create a design that would reflect their organization's mission, identity, and place in the community, Carey said. Various materials were used, including oil paint, acrylic, spray paint, and digital artwork.

The project was funded by the CDAB and each of the participating organizations.

Artist Omar Patterson's "Lowcountry Dreaming" evokes iconic images of the Lowcountry - sunset, palm trees, and marsh grass - along with historically significant African-American figures - Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Beaufort's legendary Robert Smalls. The bench was sponsored by the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and is situated outside that building.

"It took me about three weeks to paint the bench," Patterson said. "I enjoyed every minute of it. It's such a blessing to be part of something so great and historic, and to capture the spirit of the Lowcountry."

Linda Silk Sviland painted Habitat's bench, using the organization's blue and green colors to show a blueprint of a home and the finished home. The words "these are my plans for Saturday" are painted over the blueprint - a tagline that Habitat sometimes uses.

"I think it's a wonderful way to make art," Sviland said. "Other cities have done beautiful sculptures, but there is no function other than beauty. This is functional art - it's a terrific way to have the public see art that is useful."

For more information and bench locations, visit cityofbeaufort.org.

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