Drawing on the Past: Guyton Woman Gives Back to Effingham Schools with May Day Celebration Painting
Story by Stephen Prudhomme Photos by Michelle Halloway
As far back as elementary school, Brooke Lancaster loved creating artwork. Her inspiration was her father, who was always sketching something, according to his daughter.
Fittingly, while working as a cosmetologist, Lancaster rediscovered her true passion through a parent, this time her mother. That allowed her to come full circle, as she created a work of art that is prominently displayed at an Effingham County elementary school and has rekindled some fond memories among former students.
Lancaster, 28, is a former Rincon resident who lives in Guyton with her husband of nearly seven years, Jacob, and two young children, Stone, 4, and Scotland, 1. She graduated from South Effingham High School in 2010.
With the pandemic limiting her work as a cosmetologist, Lancaster devoted more time to her artwork. In June, she was contacted by Renee Rawlins, family engagement specialist at Rincon Elementary School, who followed Lancaster on Instagram.
Rawlins had a commission for Lancaster—a painting of the school’s first May Day celebration, which was started in 1984 by the school principal. The event was held on an annual basis until this year, when the pandemic forced cancellation. Rawlins provided Lancaster with a photo of the school’s inaugural May Day celebration. Some seven to eight weeks later, Lancaster gifted the school with a 48×48 festival painting that hangs in the school lobby.
Rawlins said she had worked over the summer to warm up the common areas in Rincon Elementary. The May Day celebration, she noted, is a special time for all students, their families, teachers, and staff. When the event couldn’t be held due to the pandemic, Rawlins reached out to Lancaster and said the artist was thrilled to paint something to help commemorate this special tradition for their school. She added that Lancaster offered to do the painting at no cost because of her appreciation for the Effingham school system and through following her on Instagram was amazed at her professionalism and work ethic.
“She is continually creating new ways to grow her business while also being willing to support the local community,” Rawlins said.
Along with that community spirit is impressive artistic ability. “Her work is so colorful and unique,” Rawlins said. “I felt for sure she would be able to create a piece of artwork that would capture the joy of the May Day celebration at our school.”
Lancaster didn’t disappoint. “She delivered a perfect painting (to be hung in our school lobby area) out of the goodness of her heart,” Rawlins said.
Lancaster—describing the painting featuring landscape and children now in their 40s dancing around the May pole as very, very bright with lots of colors—said she was honored Rawlins reached out and trusted her to paint something so large. She said it never occurred to her to charge the school for the painting.
“I felt so honored to create something for the front office,” Lancaster said. “Several people told me it was the best memory they had. They must have been in the picture. It’s great that it makes their day.”
Loving Art from an Early Age
Art has made Lancaster’s day for most of her life. She recalled her father being fantastic at sketching, and she always watched him. “It always held my interest,” Lancaster said. “He was always sketching out small projects and builds for around our home. I even remember one sketch he drew of a two-story playhouse with an extravagant secret passage and slide that he made come to life. Now he sketches out little works of art with my children and it brings back so many awesome memories. I loved art. I needed to paint constantly.”
Lancaster’s love of art continued in high school, where she was a member of the National Art Honor Society and worked under art teacher Mary Andregg.
As talented an artist as she was, Lancaster had plenty of competition.The Savannah College of Art and Design, considered one of the top art schools in the country, helps produce a plethora of gifted artists. Savannah attracts artists from around the world eager to capture the city’s beauty and charm through their chosen medium.
“It was unrealistic to think I could make it as a professional artist,” Lancaster said.
Subsequently, Lancaster—recognizing she had to make a living—put her creative talents to work by becoming a cosmetologist. For at least the moment, the reality of having to earn a daily living prevailed over pursuing her true passion. Lancaster’s creative talents would be limited to her work as a cosmetologist.
Finding Her Way Back to Art
That changed in 2018 after her mother started bragged about her daughter’s artistic talents to some friends. Initially, Lancaster was reluctant to back her mother’s claim, noting she hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in several years. Her inner artist convinced her otherwise.
“My mom kind of gave me a shove and it took off,” Lancaster said. “It did not take me very long to get back into the swing of painting. It was like greeting an old friend and instantly connecting again. I started doing commissions here and there.”
Lancaster balanced cosmetology and art until early this year, when Covid-19 conspired to return her to the studio on a full-time basis. Recognizing the negative impact of the pandemic, she said 2020 hasn’t been that terrible for her since she’s been able to devote her time and energy to the career field of her dreams.
“Cosmetology never fully satisfied what I was looking for,” Lancaster said. “I decided to take a leap of faith and take up painting and jewelry making as my full time career. My husband has been more than supportive of my decision to run my love of art to a full time career. My children both love spending time in the (home) studio painting and leaving colorful, little handprints all over the walls and floor.”
Lancaster specializes in landscapes and florals. She’s also started doing wedding portraits, which she thoroughly enjoys.
Lancaster is Sierra Crowe’s hairdresser, and through that association, the latter commissioned her to do three paintings. The most recent shows Crowe, her husband, 20-month-old daughter and their dog out in their yard. They didn’t pose for the painting; Crowe said Lancaster knows what they look like. All she did was send a photo of their dog. The painting hangs in her daughter’s bedroom above her crib.
“It’s perfect,” said Crowe, a Pembroke resident. “I love it. It captures the essence of our family. It has a lot of bright colors.”
Crowe said Lancaster works quickly, adding she’s very detail-oriented and has her own style.
“Brooke does beautiful work,” Crowe said. “With her color schemes, she captures a moment and brings it to the picture. It’s very unique and not something you see every day.”
In true artistic fashion, Lancaster has created her own signature works—Artisan Pieces and Artisan Whistles necklaces. She makes the former from her used painter palettes and uses beads from Kenya and other African countries. With the latter, she employs the same process but attaches a brass whistle instead of a pendant to be used by a woman or child who needs help. “I feel in a scary situation a child or woman may be more apt to blow the whistle than scream or yell for help,” Lancaster said.
She’s donating 20 percent of the necklace sale proceeds to Operation Underground Railroad and its effort to rescue trafficked and exploited children.
“It’s always pulled my heartstrings to the core, and now even more so as a mother,” Lancaster said. “I can’t even imagine if this were my children. I just want kids to be able to grow up in a safe, innocent environment. There’s a constant need to protect and rescue as many as we can. I’ve donated over $1,000 in the past month. I really want to push the Artisan Whistles.”
In an area where artists abound, Lancaster is carving, or painting, her own niche. Her style is abstract, and she often features scenes from her home county. Her new release of mallard ducks is inspired by the ones she saw in the pond behind her parents’ home while growing up. Likewise, her landscapes reflect the farms and fields of Effingham County and the surrounding area.
“I love to use bright, bold colors to engage and excite the viewer,” Lancaster explained. “I want the painting to give them a sense of familiarity as well as something brand new to view each time they look at the painting.”
Bold, bright, familiar and new—all elements on display in a May Day celebration painting that hangs proudly in Rincon Elementary School and highlights a local artist’s return to her childhood passion.
Lancaster’s artwork and jewelry can be found online at Brooke Lancaster art. Artisan Pieces can be purchased at September Closet Plant Riverside Distract in Savannah. Her Artisan Whistles are available at The Chalet Art Gallery in Highlands, NC.