Profile: Sam Doyle (1906-1985)

Thomas “Sam” Doyle was an African-American artist from Saint Helena Island, South Carolina. His colorful paintings on sheet metal and wood recorded the history and people of St. Helena’s Gullah community.

Early life

Sam Doyle was born in 1906 near Frogmore, on Saint Helena Island. He attended elementary school at the Penn School, a school for freed African-Americans founded by Unitarians and Quakers from Pennsylvania It was at the Penn School that Doyle’s teachers first recognized his artistic talent and they encouraged him to pursue his practice. Doyle dropped out of the Penn school in the ninth grade and found employment variously as a store clerk, porter, groundskeeper and finally as a laundry worker.

He married Maude Brown in 1931 or 1932; the two divorced in 1949. Doyle died in 1985 in Beaufort, South Carolina.

Art practice

Doyle continued his art practice in the 1940s, showing his paintings on sheet metal at first in his yard that he called his “Outdoor World-Wide-International Gallery”. After his retirement he took up his art practice more fully in 1968.

Doyle documented the strengths, weaknesses, trials, and blunders of his fellow St. Helena residents through painting their portraits. Doyle also documented members of the national African American community and their accomplishments, such as the first African American postman, midwife, policeman, embalmer, etc. Legends like Ray Charles, Martin Luther King Jr, and Jackie Robinson were also given portraits in Doyle’s collection.

Doyle’s work was included in the 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

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