Originally from Lake City, South Carolina, Patricia Sabree is a Gullah artist who currently operates a colorful and vibrant gallery in the heart of City Market.
His bold and vibrant paintings adorn every inch of the walls of his charming gallery, depicting the happy, country lifestyle of the Gullah people.
Raising Sabree on a family farm with 14 siblings is what first piqued her interest in art.
“Being raised on a farm, you see a lot of different things. You see the textures. You see the beautiful view over the farmland. You get to connect with each other. You get to connect with nature. . . And before you know it, you’re living a life of beauty,” she explained.
She also thanks her parents, especially her mother, for stimulating her creativity.
“My mom, she was an artist in so many different ways. . . My mother loved quilting. She loved decorating the house, and it wasn’t that we had a lot to do, but what little she had, she put it all together and made it work.
Sabree fondly remembers coming home from school and helping her mother make beautiful quilts. His father was good with his hands and could build just about anything.
“So when you have two creative people who are your parents, you become even broader as a person and you are also more cultured,” she added.
Sabree’s paintings transport you to a simpler time, with vivid landscapes where people happily interact with each other and with nature.
“When it comes to Gullah art, when you see the artwork, it’s often depicted around land as well as water,” she explained. In his paintings, you will see people fishing by the river, women carrying baskets of rice on their heads, men plowing fields, and children playing outside, among other things. These scenes invoke serenity, contentment and the joys of life in the Low Country.
She works with acrylic paint and has also found materials to create her evocative scenes.
“I like to incorporate different materials into the landscapes and seascapes that I paint,” she said. “I use different assemblages with my painting. I use rice. I use spanish moss, shells, rhinestones, anything that comes to hand, even beads and stones.
In her most famous piece, which depicts the African deity Yemaya, she used yarn, seashells and pinecones, creating a stunning piece that leaves a lasting impression.
As a Gullah artist, Sabree describes her style as expressionism. She often paints featureless black faces juxtaposed against vibrant backgrounds full of rich colors.
“For the world, most Gullah coins are featureless,” she began, “and the reason why they are featureless [is] number one, you could see yourself in any of the pieces, but number two, the most important reason is that the eyes are the windows to the soul. Thus, it is believed that when you open these eyes, you may open yourself to other worlds and other entities. . . It’s a very sacred thing,” Sabree explained.
A popular subject of his work is also African spirituality, which is an important part of Gullah culture. Sabree feels compelled to portray different deities in her work.
” The ancestors. . . want me to show all facets of Gullah culture through artwork,” she said. “In the Gullah culture, there are over 402 different gods and goddesses. . . they are part of our religion, our spiritual self.
Sabree is currently working on a piece featuring the African god Olokun, inspired by a vision she had one morning.
“I felt like I was going into a trance. And an image . . . appeared in front of me, and it had a glow around it.
She described an image of a strong young man in gold covered in jewelry and surrounded by different kinds of coins.
“He made sure he was very much alive to me . . . and I jumped out of bed and just started drawing, just trying to remember as much as I could . . . I’m painting it right now Sabree said.
Sabree feels a certain responsibility to preserve Gullah culture through her work. She felt called to a higher purpose and that was what motivated her to leave her past as an art teacher in the Carolinas and move to Savannah and open her gallery.
“I was teaching in school, and the second or third year of teaching, my spirit told me that you have to tell your story and you have to paint your story, and what a story to tell. . . growing up on a farm and coming from such a big family,” she said.
While teaching, she set up shop outside the market in Charleston, South Carolina.
She remembers many visitors telling her that she had to go to Savannah.
She finally decided to move out in 2015 after the worst of a series of car accidents.
She heard about City Market from a friend who had invited her to take a walk there with her: “A friend was on her way to Savannah. She wanted to go to City Market because she wanted to drop off jewelry in one of the galleries, and she said, “Come with me.” Sabree was reluctant at first, but eventually went for it. “I realized how beautiful City Market is,” she said. There she met gallery owner and artist Alix Baptiste and he asked Sabree to join the gallery. She filled out the paperwork and soon after she was in the gallery.
Today, she operates the gallery with her daughter Faridah, whom Sabree considers the backbone of the business. Having her support “means everything” to Sabree: “You can’t do it alone, especially in business. You have to have someone there to help you because there are a lot of different hats you have to wear. You must have someone who can help you connect the dots. For Sabree, her daughter is that person. Faridah operates the gallery early in the week, while Sabree is there Wednesday through Sunday.
In addition to beautiful paintings, Sabree’s gallery features detailed handmade dolls and jewelry. Online, she sells other products featuring her designs like umbrellas, aprons, mugs and more. She wants to make an impression through her work while raising public awareness of the Gullah culture: “I want [people] to take away a sense of pride in who you are. That all cultures matter and stories need to be told.
Sabree’s Gallery of the Arts is located in the City Market on the Studio 4 floor at 309 W. Saint Julian St. Visit the gallery to see her work or find her online at sabreesgallery.com.