William O. Golding, Chefoo, China, 1939. Pencil and crayon on paper. Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia.
William O. Golding was eight years old when he was on River Street (in Savannah, GA) and absconded to work on a ship. In a letter he wrote in his adult life, he and his cousin passed a ship called the Wandering Jew on River Street. He heard Captain William Potter ask his wife, Polly, to select one of the boys. She chose Golding, who was invited aboard and without his knowledge, the ship left Savannah Harbor.
The kidnapping would become as much a life-giver as a life-taker. He would become a merchant seaman. He traveled the world at a time when most Americans spent their entire lives within fifty miles of their places of birth. He was kidnapped in 1882 and would not see his home again until a visit in 1904. He finally returned to Savannah in his fifties. He was the epitome of a sailor by now, whose nickname was "Deep Sea.” But he was forced by sickness to live out the rest of his life in Savannah. He would never sail again.
But the sea never left him. The sailor’s life was filled with hard work and not much pay. But the life gave him what he called glorious experiences of seeing the world. When he was fifty-nine, Golding admitted in a letter that he still sailed in his dreams and met his cronies there to swap yarns.
Sometime in 1932 William O. Golding began to document his dreams and his cronies’ yarns through drawings while a patient at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Savannah. Between 1932 and 1939, he executed approximately sixty drawings. These drawing were from his memories of the ships on which he sailed and the ports he visited around the globe.
William O. Golding, Saluda Chasing Whales,
North Cape, Arctic, 1939. Morris Museum of
Art, Augusta, Georgia.
One art critic says, ‘His ships are meticulously detailed, and the drawings often include specific information regarding captains or ports of origin. Port cities often appear similar at first glance, but careful observation reveals that Golding included distinctive topographical characteristics of the land.’
Today his work is found in the permanent collections of the Georgia Museum of Art, the Morris Museum of Art, and the Telfair Museums. We do not know much about his life but he is recorded with his wife, Josephine, in the 1940 city directory. He died on August 25, 1943. He is part of the Savannah’s rich tradition of accomplished self- taught African American artists.
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