Thomas Doyle


(“Sam”) (1906–1985)
dedicated the last fifteen years of his life to celebrating the cultural heritage and stories of his local Gullah community, in painted portraits on roofing tin. Members of theGullah community are of African descent and live along the coasts of South Caroline, Georgia, northern Florida, and the neighboring Sea Islands. Doyle lived his entirelife on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, where his artistic talents were first recognized at a young age while attending the island’s Penn School, founded in 1862 toeducate freed slaves. Leaving school after the ninth grade to work at a local store, Doyle later married, became a father, and began to paint when he was in histwenties. His wife and children moved to New York City without him in the mid-1950s, and by the 1960s, Doyle was making animal sculptures from roots and branches.Doyle produced most of his paintings and sculptures—thought to total between five hundred and seven hundred works—after retiring from the Parris Island MarineCorps Recruit Training Depot laundry room, about 1970. Preferring to work outside, Doyle used cast-off materials from his immediate surroundings, most notablyroofing tin and enamel house paint, to create portraits characterized by bold juxtapositions of bright colors, expressive gestures, and a frequent use of text to convey theidentity of each subject.Doyle displayed his portraits in the yard outside his house, in what he referred to as his “Nationwide Outdoor Art Gallery.” Doyle used his yard show as a vehicle for grassroots education, encouraging memory, cultural pride, and humor. His portraits depict a rich and diverse cast of characters. Stories he heard as a boy aboutfirsthand experiences of slavery inspired depictions of island ancestors. Individuals from the generations following the American Civil War who became the first to claimtheir freedom as professionals within their community were painted by Doyle as part of a “First Blacks” series. Portraits of his contemporaries reveal Doyle’s interest indistinctive behavior nd eccentric personalities. African American leaders and various heroes from popular culture (especially those associated with local history) as well as biblical stories,tales of local root doctors, and the “haints,” or spirits, of low-country lore were also included in Doyle’s pantheon.As an accomplished storyteller, artist, and teacher, Sam Doyle celebrated the African American identity and legacy through the life stories and experiences of hisGullah community. Doyle died three years after participating in “Black Folk Art in America: 1930–1980,” the first of many group and solo exhibitions that haveincluded his work.
See also
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Religious Folk Art; Yard Show
Arnett, Paul, and William Arnett, eds.
Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South.
Atlanta, Ga., 2000.Livingston, Jane, and John Beardsley.
Black Folk Art in America: 1930–1980.
Jackson, Miss., 1982.Perry, Regenia. “Sam Doyle: St. Helena Island’s Native Son.”
Raw Vision,
vol. 23 (summer 1998): 28–35.Spriggs, Lynne E.
Let It Shine: Self-Taught Art from the T. Marshall Hahn Collection.
Atlanta, Ga., 2001. ——.
Local Heroes: Paintings and Sculpture by Sam Doyle.
Atlanta, Ga., 2000.