What would you call it if you heard about an artist who had been declared legally blind and whose heart had lost the greater percentage of its strength but whom somehow continued to produce masterful paintings in brilliantly-colored detail? The word miracle may not be too extreme at all and it certainly should not be ruled out in the case of Gullah artist Allen Franklin Fireall, who passed away in Savannah, Georgia, on March 31, 2014.
Fireall described himself as an “artist historian” who dedicated his talents to preserving the culture and history of his people. In that sense, his work might be described as historical realism. The images he produced support that assessment in bold hues depicting scenes from African-American island and rural life in the Southeast.
Populating his canvases were: men hoeing row crops, women and men working beside each other harvesting collard greens, people gathered at a lake or river to be baptized, couples enjoying leisurely strolls on the beach, solitary brides in rowboats on their way to get married, fishermen making and casting nets, women sewing quilts, and men in barber shops playing checkers.
In his earlier stronger days, Fireall produced 10 to 15 medium and large-sized canvases every month. They found their way into collections across the globe through outlets in downtown Savannah and festivals and exhibitions throughout the Low Country. They were sometimes lyrically humorous and at other times poignantly sad. What made them miraculous in either case during his final years was that he continued to produce work at all after diabetes robbed him of his sight and a failing heart withered his strength.