2022 Featured Artist – Barnie Slice

The Race’s End

If a variety of emotional experiences make for rich fodder in artistic souls, then Barnie Slice, the 2022 Georgetown Wooden Boat Show artist, had a treasure trove to draw upon.

And while Barnie had more than his share of challenges, what is wondrous is the light and beauty he chooses to draw from his life.

Barnie grew up the oldest of three siblings north of Columbia, South Carolina. He and his little brother and sister had the simple pleasures of a country life, like walking together to a general store to buy candy with coins their father gave them. They lived in a little 2-room concrete block house, but it was theirs and it was enough.

Their lives changed drastically when Barnie was 7, after his mother died from sepsis following a gallbladder operation. From that point on, every year when school let out for the summer, his father took Barnie and his brother to the barber for buzz cuts, then drove all three children 100 miles southeast to their uncle’s house in rural Hampton County. They spent their 3-month vacations fishing and playing and helping out on the farm.

When they had to return home for school that first year after their mother died, their pages flipped to a darker chapter. The threesome were too young to be without care while their father worked, so he hired an older single woman to be their live-in nanny.

“She should never have been around children,” Barnie says.

That woman punched, kicked and pinched them, and told the Slice kids that if they told anyone, she’d treat them worse. When Barnie broke his leg in a bicycle accident, she beat him with a belt for being careless.

Barnie witnessed the mean old woman with her thick, yellow fingernails, pinch his little sister so hard on the buttock that her skin broke, and a trickle of blood ran down her leg and into the back of her little sock.

Barnie knew that, as the oldest, he had to protect his baby sister. Screwing up his courage, he went outside with his dad and told him what was happening.

“My dad said, ‘You kids go out behind that shed, and no matter what you hear, you don’t come out until I get you.’ He went in the house, and we heard a bunch of screaming. The old woman came out the front door with her suitcase that had stuff hanging out of it, and she was heading to the bus stop.”

Their situation improved after that, and a nicer woman was hired to care for Barnie and his siblings. When he was 12 years old, Barnie’s father remarried, and he gained two stepsisters and a stepbrother, making a total of six children, two parents and one grandmother living in a 2-room house.

The new wife insisted on another bathroom, which was built onto the house complete with a tub. Eventually an attic loft (with no heat or air conditioning) was converted to a bunk space for all the children.

All this time, Barnie was drawing. He started drawing as soon as he could hold a pencil, and family members would save scraps of paper for him to cover. He copied what he saw in magazines and drew the world around him. Many evenings he was the family’s entertainment, as they gathered around the dining table to watch him draw.

When he was in high school, Barnie’s parents signed him up for a mail-in art school, but he lost interest and quit after two lessons. So he taught himself, through lots of practice. He drew all through his years in the Marine Corps. He married and in 1959 got a job doing displays at Sears stores in Greenville, S.C. and then in Lynchburg, Va., which utilized his artistic skills. He and his first wife had a boy and a girl.

And he painted, using watercolors and acrylics. Barnie figures he has between 12 and 14,000 paintings scattered across the globe, and before he felt good about selling them he gave them away. Eventually Barnie also started teaching art, sharing the tips and knowledge he learned by trial and error.

“I’ve trained myself,” he says, “to look at everything – the texture, the color, the lighting, and what the effect of the lighting is.”

That training was effective, and resulted in many honors and accolades, including two of his paintings hanging in the White House during the Reagan administration, and having his rendering of a cobia chosen to be included in a South Carolina fish postage stamp collection.

After a 31-year career with Sears, at age 50, Barnie was ready to try something new. As if destined by fate, he received a call inquiring whether he would like to paint murals in a school. Barnie had done murals before – the first one was in the basement of Jerry Falwell’s church in Virginia.

So off he went to paint murals, and his artistry at that job led to another school, and another, until Barnie was criss-crossing South Carolina in a pickup truck full of ladders and art supplies. He made children’s lives brighter, one school at a time. He and his second and current wife, Sue, moved from Greenville to Pawleys Island, and Barnie started teaching art again.

Finally, after completing about 50 miles’ worth of murals, Barnie’s shoulder gave out and he retired from mural painting. He still paints though, doing people and pet portraits, wildlife and landscapes, and he is a part owner at Island Art Gallery. He likes to think of himself as a visual ambassador for South Carolina.

That visual wizardry led to Barnie naturally being chosen as the 2022 featured artist for the Georgetown Wooden Boat Show. His painting, which will be sold in an auction and be reproduced on posters and T-shirts, depicts the festival’s annual wooden boat challenge. That’s when 2-person teams have the exact same materials and same amount of time to build wooden boats, which are then raced in the Sampit River. Barnie’s scene is full of life and laughter, and the River Room restaurant is in the background to honor Sid Hood, the restaurant’s co-owner and one of the boat show and South Carolina Maritime Museum’s founders, who passed away earlier this year.

Barnie says his artistic talent may have come from his father, who didn’t discover he even had any talent until he was 75 years old, and then painted beautiful pictures. Barnie’s artistic gift was passed down to his grandson, who works as a graphic designer.

Barnie’s fascinating life is detailed in two books he authored that are titled “Adventures in the Big Woods” and “The Hard Way: The Life’s Journey of an Ordinary Man.”

“I am an ordinary man with extraordinary talent,” Barnie says. “I look forward to each new painting, and am thrilled every time someone enjoys one of them.”