William O. Golding


was a significant African American self-taught artist of the early twentieth century, known primarily for his lively drawings of sailing vessels. His work condensed a half-century of seagoing experience into more than sixty small but lively drawings in pencil and crayon. During the 1930s, Golding was suffering from chronic bronchitis, andwas registered as a patient at the United States Marine Hospital in Savannah, Georgia. In 1932 he began to draw from memory, encouraged by Margaret Stiles, a localartist and the hospital’s recreation director. Information gleaned from his letters to Stiles suggests that Golding had led a hard but colorful life. Golding began his career at sea as a cabin boy at the age of eight, and later claimed to have made numerous voyages to far-flung corners of the world for more than forty-nine years.Golding’s work recalls both maritime painting and the phenomenon of memory painting in self-taught art. His images are primarily detailed, if fanciful, descriptions of ships he had seen or served on, and views of exotic ports. The works are imaginatively composed to include activities and landmarks of specific places: sailing shipschasing whales in the Arctic, South Sea ports featuring erupting volcanoes, and Chinese architecture. Golding apparently saw all or many of the sights he recorded, and pointedly mentions in one of his letters that he could not draw Bali or Hawaii because he had never seen them.Golding developed a style all his own that is easily recognized. His earliest works feature some of his trademarks, including an ever-present sun resembling acompass rose (a navigational symbol found on nautical maps) bursting forth from behind clouds, buoys, flocks of birds, lighthouses, and nameplates. Golding depictedhistorically famous watercraft such as the
which he may have seen in Savannah in 1931, as well as, in rare instances, ships that predated him. Goldingadditionally portrayed a variety of ports of call in his work, including locations in China, the Philippines, Java, Newfoundland, Trinidad, Cape Horn, the Rock of Gibraltar, and Plymouth, England.Golding’s last drawings are dated 1939. He died in 1943, at the Marine Hospital in Savannah. Although his output was relatively small, Golding’s work began toachieve popular notice with a 1970 article in
Art in America,
and was included in the seminal exhibition, “Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art 1776–1976,” in 1977.
See also
African American Folk Art (Vernacular Art); Maritime Folk Art; Painting, Memory
King, Pamela, and Harry H.DeLorme.
Looking Back: Art in Savannah, 1900–1950.
Savannah, Ga., 1996.Wadsworth, Anna.
Missing Pieces: Georgia Folk Art, 1776–1976.
Atlanta, Ga., 1976