Unspoiled beaches sprinkled with seashells, wispy grasses swaying with the wind in the marshland, graceful egrets flying overhead—Dewees Island is just a 20-minute ferry ride from Charleston but a million miles from the bustle of city life.
The private barrier island is known for its remoteness—there are only 150 lots available on the island—but there’s a hidden energy that pervades this majestic community. Part of it is the heartbeat of Dewees, the Huyler House Gallery within the community center. The great room walls are always filled with rotating collections of artwork.
“While Dewees may best be known for its commitment to environmental sustainability and helping nature thrive, Dewees owners are a dedicated and passionate group of artists, patrons and lifelong learners who have made art, in all its forms, a natural part of their lives,” says Anne Anderson, the chairperson of the gallery.
Anderson explains that when developers were looking to make a mark on Dewees, it was important to balance nature and people, as well as encourage the arts. From this mission, the community center was born. Residents and their guests flock to the center, which has been a mainstay on the island since 1997. Here, they’re invigorated by everything from performing arts to fashion, pottery, jewelry and paintings. The center plays host to food and wine festivals, book club evenings, weddings, happy hours and guest speakers from the Dewees Island Conservancy for environmental talks.
The most recent exhibits at the Huyler House Gallery speak to the diversity of visual art that can be found in the gallery. Adam Cohen from Raleigh, North Carolina, paints human figures from the inside out, revealing their spirit. Digging for Dinner and The Cello Player are examples of this technique. Jim Darlington of Sullivan’s Island shows exquisite oils. Visitors to the gallery were teased prior to opening night with his painting Woman With Straw Hat. Anderson explains that the piece showcases his interest in the Lowcountry, both “faces and places,” by highlighting modern women with a nod to South Carolina’s sweetgrass artistry.
While exhibits rotate in and out to make way for new experiences, a jewel in the gallery’s permanent collection is a hand-carved replica of the 65-ton brigantine Neptune by Tom Boozer. The real ship launched from Dewees Island in 1771, and the master carver was commissioned to re-create a model of the legendary vessel. It took more than 700 hours of work, and long-leaf pine—the same wood used on the ship—had to be sourced from the defunct, 1800s-era Kendall Mill, but finally the Neptune was resurrected. It’s proudly on display at the gallery, exemplifying the island’s history while utilizing the sailors’ practice of being resourceful with the materials they had.
“Boozer rescued boards and pieces of string and all kinds of things to make this an authentic model replica,” Anderson explains.
Another commission for the gallery is an original batik by Mary Edna Fraser. This is no small feat, as the renowned artist has her batiks at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Mimicking aerial views of the Lowcountry, her silks read like environmental maps. Fraser’s recent work is acrylic on canvas; Energy is a dynamic coastal landscape donated to the gallery by an owner in honor of the island Fraser finds “enchanting.”
Anderson was captured by the allure of Dewees, too. After a career in real estate and medicine, she and her husband, Jim, were called to the island after receiving a flier at their home in Charlotte, North Carolina. Standing on the deck of the ferry as they cruised closer to Dewees, they knew this was where they would relocate. The couple purchased a lot in 1997, built their forever home, and she has been involved with the arts council since, including serving as chairperson for the arts council on more than one occasion.
Although not a professional artist, Anderson has always had a love for the arts and enjoys playing with watercolors. Over the years, she has been a champion for the Huyler House Gallery and Lowcountry artists.
“We fell in love with the area and the beauty of the water,” she recalls. “Our story is not unique, though. Dewees Island draws people into it.” *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.