The painting, as Carolyn Vaughn describes it, is “A group of beautiful, proud and strong women who cannot help themselves from striking their best pose for the camera.
“They ride on a barge to the winnowing house like beauty queens on a parade float with hands on their hips.
“They remind me of women in extra-large Kentucky Derby hats, or cheerleaders with pom poms.”
In reality, they are slaves brought from Africa to work on rice plantations in Georgetown County, and the painting is a composite of several photographs.
Called Carolina Gold, the work won first place in acrylics in the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution’s American Heritage Contest.
Vaughn, a founder of the Carolina Gold chapter of the DAR, has a lifelong affinity for the culture the work represents.
Raised by Della Golden, her grandmother’s African-American cook, Vaughn grew up learning and loving the history and traditions of the woman she still calls “my beloved Della.”
In her strappy sandals, spandex pants and glitzy T-shirt her daughter brought back from Australia, Vaughn remembers the childhood Della created for her.
“Della and I hung clothes on the line, chopped the heads off chickens, swept the yard, stoked the wood stove, and sang the whole time, using what we had in our hands to make rhythm.”
When Della told Vaughn’s Aunt Lydia she sang in church, Aunt Lydia questioned how. Della couldn’t read, so how did she learn the words?
“Aunt Lydia didn’t understand that Gullah music was spontaneous and soul-felt, not written down,” Vaughn says.
“Della thought it was funny that people thought you had to read to be able to sing.”
With her artist’s hands continuously in motion, punctuating her memories told in her still strong, throaty voice, she explains her work.
“I used all metallic paint and some gold leaf to emphasize the value of everything in the picture.
“That rice was the money in Georgetown County, and it was earned on the backs of these people. They worked the land with the knowledge they brought here from Africa, and so to me, that’s our heritage.”
Born in Greenville County, Vaughn has four children who she raised in Rock Hill, three grandchildren, and “Jack,” her significant other she reconnected with on Facebook, rekindling a high school friendship.
Vaughn’s connection to the DAR is John Snoddy – Snoddy is her maiden name – who goes back five generations.
Her gratitude to him and his generation is, she says, unending.
Her people were Scotch-Irish, sent to this country by the Presbyterian church to work the land.
“When I was 30, I never thought I’d be able to build a house on the water, but because of the position these people put me in, to have an education…they came by the boatload through Charleston…nothing is more fascinating,” she says, starting and stopping in an effort to express her appreciation.
“When I joined the DAR and saw what my family did to put me in this position in America, to go to school, to be an artist and a math teacher…I did it on their hard work.”
Retired from teaching art and math, she taught the left-brain math and the right-brain art the same way.
“I didn’t care how they got the answer as long as it wasn’t off someone else’s paper,” she says.
Vaughn’s Murrells Inlet home is a composite of her collections, from the vintage hand mirrors on her bedroom wall, to the kimono her father brought back from the Korean War, to the Art Deco guest room.
Floor to ceiling windows overlooking the marsh, walls that meet at untraditional angles, and her personal mantra – “Life should not be a journey to the grave with your intention to arrive safely in an attractive, well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, wine in the other, body thoroughly worn out and used up, screaming ‘Woo hoo, what a ride’ – painted on her office wall, make the home a collage of the past meeting, not just the present, but through her ongoing art, the future.
Three easels hold art work in various stages of completion, and she’ll dab a little here and a little more there as she passes them. Some days she paints all day, other days, not at all.
She helped start the Carolina Gold chapter of the DAR, she’s a member of the South Carolina Watermedia Society, and going out to dinner with Jack is still worth getting dressed up for.
It’s a good life, Vaughn says, one she has because of her Scotch-Irish ancestors, and because of Della.