Hilton Head art show 50 years in the making

By David Lauderdale
Online Article Here

They make an odd picture at this point — the old man talking loud because he can’t hear anything, and the son who ran like the wind as a long-distance phenom now limps under the weight of Addison’s disease.

His name is Addison. Addison Palmer. And his father is Jim Palmer. Together they’ll open an Art League of Hilton Head Island exhibition Thursday called “Generations.” The show at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina has been 50 years in the making.

That’s how long it’s been since Jim and his wife, Barbara, pulled up to the two-room Sea Crest Motel, by sheer accident he says, with $15 to their names. She took a job with the Hilton Head Company, and they stayed.

“I wanted to be where the ocean was,” he said.

The only other artist here was Walter Greer.

It’s hard to imagine now, with an art gallery on every corner and an artist under every roof.

But so it was that Jim Palmer’s paintings of the Lowcountry’s water, marshes, birds and trees helped fill the blank canvas that was Hilton Head. Art left a broad stroke in a remote place.

His paintings turned a Chamber of Commerce newsletter into a magazine called Islander. When his first cover appeared in December 1967, Islander was “the media” on Hilton Head. Charles Fraser asked him to paint the Harbour Town Lighthouse — before there was a lighthouse. Palmer did the same thing many years later, painting Colleton River Plantation golf holes before Jack Nicklaus designed them.

But “Generations” really started well more than half a century ago.

Jim Palmer’s grandfather, Harry Palmer, was a pen-and-ink genius who illustrated news dispatches from the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Spanish American War. He lived on the move, working with a number of different newspapers, syndicating newspaper comic strips called “Babbling Bess” and “Keeping Up With the Joneses,” and pioneering animation in motion pictures.

“My father went to school in 40 states,” Jim Palmer says.

Jim was reared in Columbia. When he was 16, President Eisenhower bought one of his golf paintings at the Augusta National Golf Club, and sent him a nice letter from the White House.

Jim was the oldest of four children, and they all have influenced the Lowcountry arts.

His brother, Walter Palmer of Okatie, has since 1970 sculpted the whimsical birds that many think embody the spirit of Hilton Head. His wife, Karen, is an artist and so is his son, Wally.

Their sister Lynne Palmer ran the Red Piano gallery in the 1970s, where she instigated the weekly Round Table discussion group for local artists by inviting them to coffee. She opened the Palmer Gallery in the historic Seabrook House in Bluffton in 1982. When “Old Town” was as artsy as a dog sleeping in the street, Lynne was selling originals and prints by Jamie Wyeth, Carolyn Wyeth, A.N. Wyeth, Jasper Johns, Eliot Clark, Ray Ellis, Ann Osteen, Robert Heindel, and, of course, the Palmers.

Their sister Lorene, who they call Lodi, once managed the island’s Lonesome Duck gallery.

One time, there was a show of Jim and Barbara Palmer’s work along with both their children, Elise and Addison.

The Island School Council for the Arts staged a “Palmer Family Tribute” during the 2010 Evening of the Arts fundraising auction, something Addison has been contributing to since he was in middle school.

“It’s all that I’ve ever done or thought about doing,” said Addison. Art seeped into him from birth, and by osmosis from the others who followed Greer and his father to Hilton Head: Joe Bowler, Coby Whitmore, Joe DeMers, Ray Ellis, Ralph Ballantine, Marge Parker, Katy Hodgman, Joe Pinckney, Louanne LaRoche.

Addison, born in 1970, now has 30 years of experience, mostly in acrylics, and art has taken him around the world.

Jim and Addison now live on St. Simons Island, Ga.

Jim Palmer said he has nothing flowery to say about the father/son exhibit.

“It’s nice that we’re both still painting,” he said. “And the fact that I had a paper route when I was in high school and according to a lot of people it’s the only job I’ve ever had. We’ve relied on painting in order to function. The part that is meaningful is that we have managed to rely solely on painting all these years.”

“Generations” featuring the work of painters Jim and Addison Palmer.
May 3-28, at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery, inside the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, 14 Shelter Cove Lane, Hilton Head Island.
An opening reception is from 5-7 p.m. May 5.
Gallery times are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 90 minutes before all arts center performances.
Phone: 843-681-5060
Website: www.artleaguehhi.org

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale