Telfair Museums are exhibiting the first large museum survey of the work of William O. Golding (1874-1943), an African American seaman and artist who recorded a half-century of maritime experience in more than one hundred vibrant drawings.
“William O. Golding is an important twentieth century artist who really has not received enough attention until now. Hopefully the exhibition and the catalog that Telfair just published will help remedy that,” said Harry H. DeLorme, director of education and senior curator, Telfair Museums.
The exhibit “The Art of William O. Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships and Lots of Experience” is organized by Telfair Museums and curated by Harry H. DeLorme.
Golding made all of his work here in Savannah and his life intersected with history in many ways.
His adoptive father, William Anthony Golding (Golden) was one of the “Original 33” African American legislators in Georgia during Reconstruction, and was a founder of the historic Dorchester Academy in Liberty County.
Golding, who in private life went by the surname “Golden,” said that he was tricked into going aboard a sailing ship as a youth in the 1880s and didn’t see Savannah again for more than 20 years.
“He would work as a seaman for 49 years in all, including a decade in the U.S. Navy during the Spanish American War and Philippine War. Later, during World War I, he was in the Merchant Marine when he survived the sinking of his ship by a German submarine in the English Channel,” said DeLorme.
In the 1930s Golding was a patient at Savannah’s US Marine Hospital where he made more than 100 drawings. The building still stands today on Oglethorpe Square.
“I think his work is historically significant for many reasons. His work is a rare collection of art made by an African American seaman of any time period. Although his work follows two traditional types of maritime art, ship portraits and harbor views, he totally reinvents these genres,” said DeLorme.
Golding represented his experiences in expressive pencil and crayon drawings which combine memory, imagination, and sailors’ lore.
There are 72 works exhibited, including 23 drawings from Telfair Museums’ permanent collection, and others from the Morris Museum of Art, The Georgia Museum of Art, and private collections. The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog, the first devoted to the artist.
“Telfair is just wrapping up a series of visits to local senior centers where we are talking about Golding’s work and encouraging participants to draw from their memories and in some cases, family photos. It’s been amazing to see folks in their 90’s relate and draw their experiences from decades earlier as Golding did,” said DeLorme. “I think that his work is a story of resilience and was a means for him to express and commemorate his experiences.”
Golding’s work is currently on view in the Levitt/Varnedoe Galleries at the Jepson Center and will be up through August 28, before traveling to the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta. For more information visit telfair.org