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Midnight in the Garden

Jim Williams was, of course, one of the legendary dealers in the South. He was acutely interested in Southern pieces, particularly furniture, but spent his days in pursuit of more decorative objects in any number of categories from paintings to porcelain. Jim called me on several occasions, once from the Chatham County Jail, when he needed money to pay his lawyers. I bought some wonderful things out of Mercer House and learned a few lessons from that accomplished veteran of our trade.

I am always quick to remind others that Jim was acquitted of the murder of Danny Hansford. He died not long afterwards of natural causes and, through it all, I stayed in touch with his sister Dorothy Kingery. Dorothy didn’t think much of John Berendt’s book and was not too interested in cooperating with Clint Eastwood in the filming of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I encouraged the relationship as one not to be missed and wound up as an extra in the film. Savannah never produced the number of paintings or collectors that Charleston has, but it did give us Jim and a mighty colorful story, on par with any Southern gothic tale.

Savannah has provided me with other chapters in my career and in the story of my South. Since the business’ beginning, I have been convinced of the importance of quality framing, and we have worked diligently, then and now, to ensure that our paintings are framed properly, presented in the best manner possible. Of course, it was more prints than paintings back in 1974 when I first fell in with a Savannah framer named Hector McLean Dewart. He is best described, however, not by his vocation, but by his person: a raconteur, true Southern character, mentor, and damn good friend.

In truth, Hector was not as good a framer as he was a designer, and his imagination and skills as a draftsman were mesmerizing. His talents were only bettered by his mastery of style and the telling of the tale. He looked for all the world like Mark Twain, and I was convinced that he was the heir to Twain’s mustache, every whisker of it. In late summer 1987, I took over the exhibition space at Phillip’s Auction House in New York in anticipation of our soon-to-be released book, Look Away: Reality and Sentiment in Southern Art, and its companion traveling show. Full of publication pride, I had a party at that venue, announcing to everyone concerned that Rob Hicklin was in town with his Southern art and that they should take notice. Pity that no one thought to tell me that few of my perceived audience would be in the city in August. I actually asked Hector to don a white linen suit thinking those in attendance would mistake him for the celebrated author, a friend I had brought north to impress them. Hector agreed, but neither of us could afford the haberdashery, and it didn’t happen.

Buck Pennington spoke to the crowd there assembled, and our Memphis friends Derita and Bob Williams brought in racks of ribs from the Rendezvous in an oversized suitcase. They brought Ruby Wilson, too, who sang the blues and helped substantiate the experience as a Southern visitation. We offered mint juleps and had to send out twice for bourbon. Hector drove the rental truck with the art and supervised the installation.

It was Hector who introduced me to Jim. That movie told Savannah’s tale, but Savannah had it figured out long before. Bohemian Hector and Savannah were like white on rice. Our friendship set lasting perceptions of that city that would, as I came to know Charleston later on, come closer to contrast than comparison. Jane spent a week there early on so that Hector could teach her his craft. She undertook the assignment under a bit of duress and in support of the frame shop we maintained in the back of our little gallery at the time; the framing was something of an exercise in necessity back then, undergirding my infrequent art sales. She called me in tears when a grilled cheese sandwich cost her $1.35, and it made no sense to her that she had to suffer that brand of highway robbery to learn a trade to which she did not aspire. We both made it through, and so did Hector—for a time. We lost Hector all too soon, his death coming at age sixty in the wake of a ravaging cancer. With his loss, I found Savannah a part of my past until that casting call.

Harry Leslie Hoffman (1871-1964)
Street Scene, Savannah, Ga (1914)
Oil on canvas
30 x 40 inches
Signature Details: Lower left
Owner: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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