Art & Inspiration Flourish on Spring Island

Spring Island, one of the Lowcountry’s most scenic developments, shares its unique ethos with the greater community in an exhibition titled “Where Nature Meets Art.” Comprised of over 100 works in a variety of mediums, the show is free and on display at Hilton Head Island’s Coastal Discovery Museum through April 30, 2017. It represents the island’s ecology and heritage, as well as the personal visions of its residents, featuring everything from Southern architecture and sunset marsh scenes to photographs of marine life and bronze sculptures of kingfishers.

“You can’t go anywhere on Spring Island without seeing something you get inspired by,” said Director of Arts Programming Pam Johnson Brickell. “The island is 3,000 acres but we’ll have just 400 homes at max build-out. We have a huge nature preserve that’s very well-managed, and four ecologists on staff. This is South Carolina in its natural state.”

Since its inception in 1990, Spring Island has boasted a dynamic arts program that continues to grow. This is thanks to the founding vision of Betsy Chaffin, an artist and one of the original developers, who felt Spring Island should be a true community and that having an arts program was essential to this goal. In addition to resident members, visiting artists are frequently invited to participate in one-week residencies, during which they enjoy the hospitality and beauty of the island. In exchange, they leave behind a piece of art as a record of their inspiration. Over the years, these pieces have formed a stellar international collection of 200+ works that remain on permanent display throughout the various public buildings on Spring Island. Some of the artists also give workshops and classes which are open to members and their guests.

Resident artists are a diverse lot who reflect varied skill levels and interests. Some are newcomer hobbyists, others well-established professionals. They take joy in supporting and encouraging one another.

Recently, these artists have begun organizing themselves into focused groups by discipline, such as painting, ceramics, metalworking and photography. Many other mediums are represented, including fiber arts, book arts, woodturning, jewelry and collage. These groups function as social entities, as well, taking field trips and hosting speakers at their meetings. The current show at Coastal Discovery Museum highlights the wide range of their interests—everything from pastel seascapes and photographs of egrets, to abstract paintings and an eight-foot tall hanging metal fish wind chime mounted on a tabby shell base. There is even a limited edition handcrafted “Hurricane” board game.

“I think the most interesting thing about this show is the incredible diversity,” said Lark Gildermaster Smith, who has lived on Spring Island for 10 years and is currently head of the various creative groups. She says the exchange of ideas extends across mediums and disciplines to foster new levels of creativity. “Because of the strong sense of community, there is a lot of collaboration and inspiration that goes on amongst us,” she said. “It really is a lot of fun, and Spring Island is a wonderful place to live.”

“Where Nature Meets Art” is a general retrospective that has relied on the efforts of many. Spearheaded by Geoff Lorenz, head of the 114-member painting group, he finds it exciting that approximately half of the program members are newcomers who have never been involved in the arts before.

“We really love encouraging people to try new things that they’ve always wanted to do,” said Lorenz, who started painting a little over two years ago, despite never having held a brush except to paint a house. He recalls that during his first workshop, he sat next to a woman whose paintings fetch $1,000 apiece, yet she was extremely supportive and encouraging to a newcomer. “We have proven that if you have any interest at all, we can train you,” Lorenz said. “People sit down and create something, then later they think, ‘Oh my God, did I really do that?’ It’s wonderful.”

As the program has grown, residents have broadened their scope beyond the shores of Spring Island with their artistic and preservation ideals. “It’s their passion,” she said. “I’m very proud of their work and creativity. They’re having a great time and I’m glad I can be a part of it.”

“Where Nature Meets Art,” an exhibition featuring the Artists of Spring Island, is on display at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn through April 30. For the schedule of artist demonstrations and gallery walks, visit coastaldiscovery.org. More information about the Spring Island community may be found at springisland.com.

Written by Michele Roldán-Shaw. Photos Courtesy of Spring Island and the Coastal Discovery Museum.