Sam Doyle  (American, 1906-1985) 

Sam Doyle (American, 1906 – 1985), a descendant of slaves, was a folk artist born on the island of St. Helena off the coast of South Carolina. He is best-known for his portraits done with house paint on salvaged wood and roofing tin that depict significant figures and moments in Gullah history. As a child, Doyle attended a school established for newly liberated slaves, the Penn School, where he was encouraged to pursue the study of art and history. With a family to support, he had little time to explore his artistic abilities, yet created makeshift sculptures, drawings, and paintings as a hobby.

By the late 1960s, Doyle was able to devote his time fully to his art, which paid homage to his own local community’s traditions and to African-American progress as a whole. Portraits such as First Black Midwife and Rey, a tribute to Ray Charles, highlight Doyle’s style of using loose brushstrokes to represent his figures.

Doyle’s growing collection of work eventually evolved into the St. Helena Outdoor Art Gallery, where he showcased his paintings and sculptures in his yard. By the end of his life, his profound influence had reached beyond the the Gullah community. In 1982, the Corcoran Gallery of Art included his work in the “Black Folk Art in America 1930-1980” exhibition and the Neo-expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat traded his own pieces in exchange for a few of the Outsider artist’s paintings. The Foundation for Self Taught Artists has recognized him for his achievements, and his work is part of the collection at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.

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Sam Doyle, Catcher


Sam Doyle
circa 1980-1981

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Sam Doyle, Alligator


Sam Doyle
Alligator, 1970
painted wood


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Sam Doyle, Try me


Sam Doyle
Try me
paint on roofing tin


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Sam Doyle, Go down


Sam Doyle
Go down


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1906   Born on St. Helena Island, South Carolina