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Lanes of Savannah: The artistic path less traveled

A FEW months ago, artist Sandra Attales got a call from Peter Roberts, director of Location Gallery.

“He goes, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Attales laughs. “‘Guess what the Davenport House is highlighting in January? The lanes!’”

Roberts knew that, for years, Attales had been painting Savannah’s lanes.

“I came upon the concept in 2008,” says Attales. “I was still in school at the time, and it really came about because we don’t have alleyways down here, or compressed spaces. That was most intriguing.”

That’s how “Between,” Attales’ gloomy yet romantic lane paintings, came to be.

Attales achieves that gloominess by working with charcoal and oil on canvas.

“I think the whole idea of not being able to go down the alleys, there’s that allure, a push and pull,” Attales says. “I started looking more into the atmosphere in the work and I thought, ‘What medium is going to best pull that out of the viewer?’ I felt like charcoal on canvas. I go back with glazes of color at first with oil, translucent just to get that dirt feeling that’s still on the canvas. That mood, I love it.”

After Attales graduated from SCAD’s Atlanta campus, she moved to Islamorada, FL, to start her gallery, Studio Sesh Arts, and the lanes took a backseat.

“I took a break from doing them and ventured off and did some other work,” Attales says. “The original ones that Peter fell for, I had never put those in a show. Those were just hidden in my house. I thought coming back to the Keys, nobody would appreciate them. When I opened my gallery down here, I was like, ‘You know what? I’m putting them up. I have an industrialized kind of space, and people were like, ‘These are great.’”

As Attales knows and appreciates, the art market is different in the Keys than it is in the Lowcountry.

“People down here are trying to buy what fits their homes, and this doesn’t fit and I get that. I just have been pushing them anywhere else,” she says. “Then there are some people that think they have to buy art that fits, and I think there are people that don’t even think about their home. They buy art they can wake up every day and they want to live with. When I go away and find a piece I love, I’m like, ‘I love it, I need it.’ I’m not even thinking about making it fit.”

Roberts and Attales, she says, hit it off immediately when they met several years ago. Attales’ stint at Location is her half of a gallery flip; Roberts is currently exhibiting his HeadCases papercuts at Studio Sesh Arts.

“Between” fits in perfectly with the Davenport House’s new initiative to tell the story of Savannah’s lanes.

“We have plans to expand our interpretation and facilities, which include a more informed understanding of what the lane were in the early 19th century, particularly with regard to the African-American community,” shares director Jamie Credle.

As Credle explains, the lanes are an important part of Savannah’s history and its city plan.

“The lanes were the communication route of the African American community during the early 19th century,” explains Credle. “A historian has said that wardens and constables usually stayed away from the lanes, unless there was something that aroused their suspicion. It allowed enslaved household members a passage beyond outbuildings and sheds, which led to a broader world.”

Credle and the Davenport House team are still working on the details of the new initiative, but Attales’ show proceeds benefit the house and their efforts.