Galleries : South African arts at L'Elegance
Most people know the aptly named, three-year-old L'Elégance in Oak Bluffs as a fine linen and furniture shop offering high-end interior decorating services. What they may not realize is that the shop's Upstairs Gallery specializes in exhibits by members of the Island's African-American arts community.
This month, the gallery, owned by Oak Bluffs summer residents Fred and Gloria Collins, is hosting a special exhibit of arts and crafts from nine different provinces in South Africa. Brought to this country through a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program, the show is a treasure trove of the unique and beautiful.
The Collins's South African connection began when a representative from Design South Africa, a company whose items they carry, gave their names to the South African consulate in New York. That resulted in a South-Africa-sponsored trip for Mr. Collins, an attorney, earlier this summer.
Mr. Collins attended a Johannesburg exhibition of master craftsmen, and he brought bowls, platters, vases, and water jugs back with him. They are displayed in L'Elegance's front window this month. Also downstairs are South African beadwork objects, along with stunning cheetah pewter ware by Diana Carmichael and colorful fabrics.
Mr. Collins also visited the Imiso factory, whose exquisite, one-of-a-kind pottery from Cape Town is arranged around a striking Zulu mask on a table in one of the Upstairs Gallery's two second-floor rooms. In the Xhosa language, "imiso" means "tomorrow."
African animals and other pieces by Lameck Mlingo, a master carver and sculptor, sit on top of a nearby showcase. Handmade bowls and pots by three other South African artists, some based on motifs from traditional Zulu beer vessels, share the space.
In another corner are South African baskets in an array of earthen colors, while the woven wire baskets by Elliot Mkhize in bright, vibrant colors sit on top of another display case with more pottery by master craftsmen from Johannesburg brought back by Mr. Collins.
"Gloria had a vision," says Mr. Collins. "She wanted to open the store." The couple had another store in Dunedin, Fla., but decided to close it and move to Oak Bluffs. L'Elégance has been in its present location for three years.
Ms. Collins is the design inspiration behind the exhibits in L'Elégance, in both the downstairs shop and in the Upstairs Gallery. She has seamlessly blended the artwork from South Africa with paintings and other pieces by local African-American artists and some from afar.
Featured on permanent collection at the Upstairs Gallery are the paintings of Oak Bluffs summer resident Harry Seymour.
Harry Seymour's paintings capture life in the Oak Bluffs African-American summer community, using egg tempera, casein, and oil. He also creates portraits, landscapes, and figure paintings in scratchbook etching, a technique using Masonite coated with white clay and black ink.
His brother, photographer Craig Seymour, from Washington, D.C., is displaying photographic works painted digitally with computer pixels. Using a hot African palette, Craig Seymour's photographs incorporate themes from African-American culture and will be displayed through September 15.
An array of handsome masks from Gabon, the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria take up one corner of an upstairs room. They come from the collection of a New York friend of the Collins, Mario Reid.
On the wall nearby are the bright gouache paintings by William Kwamena-Poh, a Ghanian artist who now lives in Savannah, Georgia. The antic figures and designs of Oak Bluffs painter and ceramicist Washington Ledesma share space in the room.
Suesan Stovall's mixed media works incorporate aspects of African-American history into collages. Also on display are works of decoupage by Dorothy Burnham. Both are Oak Bluffs artists.
The South African collection, Upstairs Gallery at L'Elégance, 73 Circuit Ave., Oak Bluffs. Through Sept. 15. 508-696-9002.