"One is not certain if or why or how.
One wants a Teller now."
Gwendolyn Brooks (b. 1917)
Gallery Agnes was born out of the family legacy of five women: Henrietta, Clara, Agnes, Meta and Shantell, spanning three centuries.
In the middle 19th century in Ravenel, SC. Henrietta Lockwood Smalls was the mother of 11 children. Living a hardscrabble life after the Civil War, she became an inspiration for her daughters through the generations.
In a time when few women left home, Henrietta encouraged her young daughter Clara to travel to Charleston and find a better life.
Like her mother, Clara Smalls Simmons was a woman of modest means and huge dreams. Life was not easy in Charleston in the years between the two World Wars, but she persevered. Black women of this era could be domestics or work the land. Clara became the best housemaid in town and often worked three jobs at once, determined to rise.
Twice widowed and with three small children, Clara painstakingly saved her meager wages to purchase a home for her family. An intrepid entrepreneur, she bought a house, and then another. She opened a boarding house and several stores—eventually owning five homes and sweet shops in the mid-1900’s.
Agnes Lucille Simmons inherited the work ethic and fearlessness of her mother, Clara. In 1934, after graduating from Burke Industrial at 18, she left the South for the big city, New York. Starting as a nanny (where she discovered her artistic talent), she later became a licensed nurse before returning to SC. Agnes became a wife and mother in York, SC and made regular visits to her family home in Charleston.
And Agnes, in turn, inspired her own daughter, Meta, to reach for the stars and keep the the family legacy alive and strong.
Today, Meta and her daughter Shantell are partners in Gallery Agnes. Their goal is to share with the world the story of these remarkable women.
Their mission: ensure Gallery Agnes serves to promote heritage programs and provides economic stability and business savvy to future generations. To become Tellers and Keepers of the Legacy.