I have made the acquaintance of a most amazing man. Rollins Edwards is a man full of life and color, and my paintings are based on a photo by the very talented Taylor Rizzo that appeared in Azalea magazine. I have come to realize that as an artist I can help tell the story. And here is a bit of his.
The photo on the left is Anne Quattlebaum, Director of the Charleston City Gallery, holding my painting of Rollins Edwards for the Juried Piccolo Spoleto 2015 show. The center photo is of Rollins Edwards in front of the painting on display and the photo on the far right is my meeting at Rollins and Jaunita Edward's home.
"Soldier, Statesman, Jazz Drummer- Rollins Edwards has done it all" according to the Summerville Journal Scene in July of 2014. His life's journey is an amazing tale that he shares with others and has been included in the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center.
Mr. Edwards, born in 1922, was drafted into the Army and served from 1943-1946 in both the European and Pacific Theaters. Spending time in both theaters is unusual but what makes his story so compelling is what the US Army called the Chemical Warfare Service.
Before he was shipped to Europe, he and other minority soldiers were intentionally exposed to mustard gas and other chemicals. His experience lasted for 30 consecutive days at a secluded location in Louisiana. To this day, he continues to suffer ill effects of this chemical exposure. In June 2015 National Public Radio, www.NPR.org, ran a special series called World War II Mustard Gas Testing. It is an enthralling and terribly tragic story which features Mr. Edwards, among others. Click on the photo to link to the story.
Music provided opportunities for him when he returned home. He pursued a career in jazz playing with the likes of Count Basie and later he served his South Carolina community on the Dorchester County Council and the Summerville Town Council.
Rollins Edwards is 93 years young and has made it his mission to tell his story, which he does very well and a book is rumored to be in the works. His capacity for vigor and inner peace is epic. A teacher for us all. He recently took one of the WW II veterans trips from Charleston to Washington DC and marveled at the attention the veterans received. He said he felt like a Rock Star. Well, he is a star and really so much more. What an example of resilience and the human spirit.
Rock on, Rollins Edwards, rock on!
Karyn Healey is an oil painter in the lowcountry of South Carolina working on figurative, landscape, and architectural paintings in a variety of styles.