Herman Keith’s life has come full circle – thanks, in part, to his passion and a paintbrush.
Keith said he always wanted to be an artist. It was a desire and talent that everyone from his schoolteacher aunt in Belton, South Carolina, to Claflin University’s own art pioneer Arthur Rose recognized and encouraged in Keith’s younger days.
Now – more than four decades after launching his own career as an art educator – Keith finds himself again at Claflin, this time instructing the next generation of up-and-coming artists and art teachers. An exhibit of his mixed media works, “Through the Keyth Hole,” is currently on display at the Arthur Rose Museum on campus.
An opening reception for “Through the Keyth Hole” will be held from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the museum.
Keith, who has taught such courses as art appreciation and art for elementary students at Claflin since 1998, was the driving force behind the establishment of the Arthur Rose Museum, the University’s first and only dedicated art gallery space on campus.
“Mr. Arthur Rose was considered the dean of black art in the state of South Carolina. He was a great artist. Students loved him,” Keith said. “Claflin has always been the center of black art in the state of South Carolina. It had the only art department in the state of South Carolina.
“The museum was a way to honor Mr. Rose. If there was going to be an Arthur Rose Museum, what better place to be than on Claflin’s campus?”
Keith has tried to emulate the relationship with his own students that Rose fostered with his.
“All of my life, I’ve tried to convey my feelings about art,” he said. “Art has always been my favorite pastime. My artwork is usually abstract, but centers on black subject matter. It has helped me to discover my heritage.
“The more I’ve learned, the more I can teach others. That’s what I’ve found myself doing. I’ve always dreamed of being in an art studio.”
Keith’s training under Rose was informal – after all, he was never an “official” student of one of the great artist’s at Claflin, as Keith received his undergraduate degree at neighboring South Carolina State and went on to gain a master’s degree from the University of Georgia, where he said he received the bulk of his artistic training. Most of his professional career was teaching art at T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, not far from his hometown and the early influence of his aunt.
“I’ve been painting ever since I can remember,” Keith said. “My aunt was a teacher in a country school, and she would have me to create everything for her that she couldn’t. She would have me create all of her bulletin boards and just all kinds of things that teachers need. Sometimes she would catch me drawing something that would fit right in with what she was teaching about.
“She encouraged me. She would take my work to the fair and other places where there were art competitions. I won a lot of them. After that, I sort of knew it was my calling.”
Keith said most of his work is done in acrylics, which he picked up during his time in Georgia. The exhibit on display at the Arthur Rose Museum actually began there, as well.
“I adopted the keyhole as a way to express all of my feelings and ideas,” he said of the play on words in the exhibition’s title. “In it, you’ll see my experiences as an art student first at the University of Georgia, where I was the only black student in my class (he graduated in 1970) … and then experiences from my tenure at T.L. Hanna High School, where I spent most of my professional life as a teacher.”
He said art is a necessary component in a student’s education.
“I think it is one of the essential courses,” Keith said. “It was necessary for me, and it’s necessary for all of the students who I’ve taught. The longer I teach, the more important I feel it is, and the more important it becomes. That’s what I’ve spent my entire life doing, proving that art is necessary. … And now that it’s been proven, I’m ready to go on to something else. I’m ready to go on to really making it work.”
“I’ve really been blessed,” he continued. “And work hasn’t really seemed like work at all. It hasn’t been a job. I feel like my whole entire life has been pleasure.”
For more information about Keith’s exhibit and other events at the Arthur Rose Museum, call museum coordinator Joey Hilton at 803-535-5324.