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The Art of William Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships, and Lots of Experience

September 24, 2022 - January 22, 2023

William O. Golding, Cheefoo, China, 1939. Pencil and crayon on paper. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.

This is the first-ever large-scale museum survey of the work of William O. Golding (1874–1943), an African American seaman who discovered his artistic abilities late in life and recaptured the half century he spent at sea. At a time when most Americans lived their entire lives within fifty miles of their birthplace, Golding circumnavigated the globe eight times. Clearly, his worldview, informed by extensive personal experience, was not something shared by his fellow citizens.

During an extended stay as an inpatient in the United States Marine Hospital in Savannah in the 1930s, he began to create a visual record of all the places he had seen during his life at sea, encouraged to draw from memory by the hospital’s recreation director, Margaret Stiles, an artist in her own right and a member of the Savannah Art Club. The result was an outpouring of highly expressive pencil and crayon drawings, now thought to total more than 130. His somewhat fanciful artworks depict ships he had seen or served on and views of exotic ports of call. The images range from pictures of the Savannah harbor (which never looked so colorful in real life) to scenes of sailing ships chasing whales in the Arctic, South Seas ports featuring erupting volcanoes, and renderings of Chinese architecture recalled from visits to Hong Kong and Foochow (Fuzhow). Golding’s work relates not only to maritime painting but also to the phenomenon of memory painting in self-taught art.
Harry DeLorme, exhibition curator and director of education and senior curator at the Telfair Museums, notes, “William O. Golding is an important twentieth century artist who really has not received enough attention until now. . . . His work is historically significant for many reasons. [It] 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.”

The seventy-two works in this exhibition include twenty-nine from the Morris Museum’s collection and twenty-three from the Telfair Museums’ collection, as well as loans from the Georgia Museum of Art and private collections. Organized by the Telfair Museums, the exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog, the first devoted to the artist.

Join us on Thursday, October 13 at 6 p.m. to celebrate the exhibition The Art of William O. Golding: Hard Knocks, Hardships, and Lots of Experience, organized by the Telfair Museums. Exhibition curator Harry H. DeLorme, director of education and senior curator at the Telfair Museums, will give a lecture, followed by a catered reception in the galleries with live music by John Kiran Fernandes. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog of the same title, which is available in the museum store. $15, members; $25, nonmembers. Register online https://secure.acceptiva.com/?cst=NqiQq2 or call 706-828-3825.


September 24
January 22, 2023
Event Category:


Morris Museum of Art
1 Tenth Street
Augusta, GA 30901 United States
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