Born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1959, Bluffton artist Murray Sease spent much of her youth living all over the world as her U.S. Air Force father changed assignments. It was during those travels that Sease gained an appreciation for art.
“We lived in Naples, Italy, while he commanded the NATO air forces in Southern Europe,” she said. “My mother dragged me to every museum in Italy while we were there. I didn’t realize what a lucky girl I was at the time!”
While in Italy, they traveled all over Europe for four years before her father retired to Hilton Head Island. There she continued her involvement with art.
“In high school at Sea Pines Academy, I had an exceptional art teacher – Gretchen Ramsey, who along with her husband also owned the first movie theater on the island,” Sease said.
Since her family moved every two to three years, she had to make friends quickly or entertain herself. Sease said she was either always reading or drawing, and began riding horses at about age 9, as soon as her parents would allow her.
“In school I would draw horses endlessly when I was supposed to be doing schoolwork,” she said.
This apple hadn’t fallen too far from the tree. Her parents, Rosemary and Fred Dean, who quickly became fixtures in their Lowcountry community, were very early members of Art League of Hilton Head. Her father took up woodturning, ultimately showing and selling his pieces – which were much admired and sought after.
Sease attended Appalachian State University for two years and continued at Savannah College of Art and Design for four years part-time, finishing as a member of the first graduating class at SCAD in 1982, the same year she married her husband, Bill.
Both of them grew up on the island but chose to move to Bluffton.
“We moved to Bluffton in the mid-’80s, and we built our house ourselves at Sawmill Creek. There were quite a few people here already, even when it was just dirt roads,” Sease recalled. “We live as close to the country as you can get in Bluffton. … We sort of felt we were escaping Hilton Head’s activity. We saw a lot of changes there.”
Their son William was born in 1997 at Hilton Head Hospital, and eventually attended May River Montessori. Bill was among those who helped renovate the building when the school moved from its previous site on Ulmer Road to its current location on Calhoun Street. Murray did some volunteer work at both schools, especially when young William started public school.
At the same time, Sease was working as a graphic artist.
“I studied graphic design in college and have worked at that for over 30 years. About 14 years ago my mother encouraged me to join the Society of Bluffton Artists, and there I was inspired and encouraged by so many talented people. My first painting workshop was with Lynda Potter, who was wonderful,” said Sease.
Her work is displayed at the SOBA Gallery, the Art League of Hilton Head, and her favorite gallery – of which she is one of the seven cooperative artists – La Petite Gallerie on Calhoun Street in Bluffton.
“I like to think La Petite Gallerie contributes positively to Bluffton’s booming art scene, and we do our best being involved in local art festivals and events,” Sease added.
Her paintings are local, lively, and colorful, and she gets great support from her family.
“Bill is an excellent support to my work as an artist. He makes most of my frames, and both he and William are my faithful art critics and sounding boards for ideas for paintings and gallery happenings,” said Sease.
Her paintings cover a range of topics, from local scenery, fresh produce and flowers, to animals – particularly Lowcountry birds, goats and cows.
“We live on an acre and a half, and on our property we have chickens and three dogs. They are often my subjects,” she said, “but I don’t paint them live. I rely on my camera.”
Hilton Head Island might have become busier, but Bluffton also has changed since the Seases moved to town.
“It has grown by leaps and bounds, especially in the past few years. It’s a little sad to see so much development, but we also are happy to see that it seems to be done in a thoughtful manner, in Old Town especially,” she said. “People are careful to preserve the look and the feel and the charm that we have there.”
Some of the changes include lots of stores.
“I do remember as a child going to Savannah or the Post Exchange in Beaufort at the base for groceries and things,” she said. “We’d go to the mall in Savannah for shopping. I guess I still went to the island for shopping, certainly before the outlet malls. Now it seems like anything you could possibly need is right here in Bluffton.”
Sease said the art scene in Bluffton has changed in the time she has lived here.
“It has just blossomed. I think it’s so much fun,” she said. “Bluffton had a great art scene before I was an artist myself, but coming into Bluffton, and learning from all the top-notch artists and potters that are here, so much creativity and imagination that’s on tap. I’ve learned so much from everyone.”
Sease works one day a week at La Petite Gallerie, but frequently pops in other days and visits the other galleries as well.
“My favorite thing about being in the Bluffton art scene is the great camaraderie between artists. Our little gallery and all the other galleries seem to work together very nicely. If we don’t have something in our gallery that a visitor wants, and that we think another artist has to offer, we tell them about that gallery,” she said. “I definitely like to promote the Society of Bluffton Artists and tell potential artists about their workshops and classes. I strongly recommend the SOBA Art School. It’s for all levels, and the classes are small enough that teachers can usually work with all the students.”
Sease has received numerous awards for her work, and held several solo shows. She has been juried into the Art Market at Honey Horn for several years and has often participated in the SOBA member show, most recently placing second in oils this year.
“I volunteered at SOBA for several years, and like to think I had a small part in helping them be a top notch community arts gallery and center,” said Sease. “SOBA has, and has had from the beginning, amazing volunteers who dedicate tons of their time and skills to that end.”
Sease is quick to brag about Bluffton and all it has to offer.
“I tell newcomers to go to the art galleries. And our beautiful river. The life blood of the town is the May River. I definitely encourage them to try local oysters and all of the seafood out of the bounty of our river and ocean,” she said. “And the fresh food. I love that we have so many farmers markets and wonderful agriculture in the surrounding areas. I love the fresh fruits and veggies, and aren’t we lucky to live in a place with access to the best?”
Sease continues her work as a graphic artist, lending her talents to numerous local clients, including Truffles, Bluffton School of Dance, and the Coastal Discovery Museum.
“I like to think I’ve helped my graphic design clients look their best over the years. I hope I’ve shown people who would like to paint that it’s possible to do something you really love and actually make a living at it. And to show that it is fine to follow your passion whatever it is,” she said. “For me art is now a passion! I can’t imagine not painting. It makes me happy and I love to see people smile when they enjoy my work.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.