Keels Culberson Swinnie
Official Artist for the 2012 Wooden Boat Show
By Kimberly Duncan
Keels Culberson Swinnie is an artist, a savvy business woman, daughter, wife, sister and friend. A Pawleys Island native, she was born with an artistic temperament, an eye for beauty and a proclivity for tree-climbing, boat-building and mischief-making. Somewhere along the way, perhaps one of many falls from the many trees Keels climbed, she damaged her hip. Simultaneously child and warrior woman, she toughed it out so that her injury went undetected for some time. Then she was forced to undergo major hip surgery - at the tender age of six. All her considerable energy was trapped in a full body cast for nine very long weeks. That's when she discovered an innate love of art.
No one in-the-know will deny Keels came by her talent honestly. Her Father, Henry Culberson, is well known and loved throughout the Lowcountry for building surfboards, crafting exquisite boats, masterminding woodworking projects, raising bees and other uncommon endeavors. He is also a former Georgetown Wooden Boat Challenge competitor - and winner.
Keels grew up, quite literally, at her Daddy's heels. She remembers working together, with her Dad and as a family, on boats every afternoon - especially in cooler months when surfing wasn't as appealing an option. Then the family would climb aboard and go rowing on the Waccamaw River. It was a routine she loved; what child wouldn't?
Therein lies the inspiration for the 2012 Wooden Boat Show's official painting. In subject matter and mood, it is like nothing so much as it is like a Lowcountry-style Norman Rockwell work of art. Her Dad's long ponytail remains the same - albeit it a bit more gray. She shares his intense, ice-blue eyes. Notice surfboards hanging from the ceiling. Notice she is on tiptoe. She remembers those afternoons fondly - and has recreated them in delicious detail in the official painting showcased on the 2012 Wooden Boat Show poster.
In 2004, Keels graduated from Converse College with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design and Art History. Then she studied Studio Art at the College of Charleston. She continued her education at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy.
Although she anticipated a career as an interior designer, the process of creating art grabbed her early on - and never let go. And when Keels began creating, people took note in short order. With a friend turned colleague, she started a small business specializing in hand painted furniture and murals - work she still loves. She does amazing things with salvaged doors, using them as headboards and tables. She also paints pet portraits; she is gifted with an extraordinary ability to capture their unique personalities.
Keels is an exquisite artist by any measure. Her work is colorful, evocative and embraces a variety of subject matter. Of course, the ocean, South Carolina's Lowcountry and all things related often take center stage. That, too, is in her DNA. A self-proclaimed travel hound, though, the landscapes of Italy, Greece and Costa Rica also influence color choices and subject matter and all the minutiae that transform art into fine art.
Keels has work displayed in galleries, private homes and businesses all over South Carolina and beyond. She serves as a board member for the Pawleys Island Festival of Music & Art and the Kathy Metts Memorial Art Scholarship committee. She is one of four founding members of the Ebb & Flow Art Co-op in Murrells Inlet. Anyone interested in seeing more of her work should visit Ebb & Flow Art and Pawleys Lifestyles on the North Causeway in Pawleys Island. Learn more, lots more, at www.KeelsArt.com.
Artist turns dad into poster child for boat show
By Jason Lesley
Keels Culberson Swinnie pulled the scene she used for this year’s Georgetown Wooden Boat Show poster from the memories of her childhood. In the painting for the 23rd annual event this Saturday she is standing on tiptoes on a little stool at the stern of a wooden boat with her father, Henry, looking on. He is in blue jeans and flip-flops, just as he is today, with a ponytail curling around his neck. There are surfboards stashed overhead in the workshop, hinting that it’s too cold for riding the surf at Pawleys Island and a good day for woodworking.
On days like this, Swinnie says, she would ride along as her father rowed the Waccamaw River in a boat he built himself. She was so inspired with the craft that she and a neighbor boy built their own boat — it was more like a raft, her father says. Swinnie says her childhood memories are better than the reality. She admits to being embarrassed that her parents weren’t like those of her friends.
Henry Culberson remains an unconventional farmer, with orange trees loaded with fruit and banana trees, too. Other crops are irrigated using solar power, and he sells honey from his beehives. He is first and foremost a builder and has constructed his own paradise at the edge of the Hagley community on the riverbank. Sitting around a smoldering fire pit on a coolish October morning, it’s easy to imagine that this is how the Swiss Family Robinson clan lived, even if it’s not on an island and the rat-a-tat-tat of building next door pierces the serenity.
Swinnie, the artist, is a product of this paradise. When her mother noticed that she couldn’t learn to skip at age 6, doctors found that her hip was out of joint, likely the result of a fall from a tree limb that she just shrugged off. Surgery and nine weeks in a full-body cast left her with little else but pencils, paints and paper to amuse herself. The things around her made good subject matter. Her father is known for his surfboards, and he regularly took his own wooden boat to Charleston for rowing races. He had building projects continually in the works, stopping to surf whenever the spirit, or the waves, called.
At age 30, Swinnie realizes what a gift her unconventional childhood was and its influence on her as an artist. She graduated from Converse College in 2004 with a rather conventional bachelor’s degree in interior design and art history before studying studio art at the College of Charleston and continuing at the Santa Reparata International School of Art in Florence, Italy. Her creative streak kept calling when she came home, and she started a business specializing in painted furniture and old doors and shutters. She’ll be busy until Christmas painting pet portraits, another niche that she has exploited. Her paintings are on display at the Ebb and Flow Art Co-op in Murrells Inlet, a gallery she founded with three friends.
“I love to paint in bright colors,” she says. The influence of the family’s second home in Costa Rica and her travels to Italy and Greece can be found in her work. She just came home from a gallery tour through Paris, Amsterdam and cities in Spain. Though she loves impressionism, she tends to be more realistic.
The original painting for the Wooden Boat Show poster, with its mahogany-inlay frame, will be auctioned at the Goat Island Regatta, a sponsors party, Friday night in Georgetown. Swinnie will sign posters — they sell for $20 — at the Maritime Museum on Front Street Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The painting is also printed on the boat show’s annual T-shirts. More of her paintings are on display this week at the Rice Paddy restaurant.
Wooden Boat show 2012
Keels Culberson Swinnie