Community Partnership Ensures Rare Maritime Forest at Gateway to the Island

Even longtime island residents, who have traveled over the rivers and through the marshes in thousands of crossings, say they experience a quick heart-stop every time they drive over the causeway and head back onto St. Simons. It is not only those who have been gone for a spell. For many, it’s a daily homecoming described with words such as “spiritual” and “a little like being in love.”

They claim an unparalleled sense of place created by the ever-changing colors of the marsh: the green, gold, and brown waves of spartina grass, the now-placid/now-roiling ribbons of water underneath the bridges. The marina, with its rocking masts and clanging halyards, the first glimpses of Gascoigne Bluff, and the park at Epworth by the Sea. It’s seeing again that triangular patch of green, the streaming flags, and sign welcoming you back to St. Simons as soon as you’re back on terra firma.

Such a modest, simple gateway to this treasured island. But its very simplicity is a reason that merely driving onto St. Simons evokes strong emotions, why so many people feel they’ve left at least some of their 21st century burdens on the back side of the causeway and are returning to something calmer and quieter, where there is still more green than concrete, more oaks than offices.

Thanks to a partnership between the St. Simons Land Trust and homeowners in the Kings Point neighborhood, that deep SSI inhale now can be extended beyond the welcome sign and past a wooded stretch along Kings Way headed toward the Village.

In late August, the Land Trust purchased three acres of almost pristine maritime forest that fronts nearly 500 feet of Kings Way. The Kings Point subdivision is to the east, and the property’s southwest boundary extends roughly 900 feet along hundreds of acres of protected salt marsh that expands out to the Frederica River and the St. Simons Sound.

The tract also has proximity to historic Retreat Plantation, a 2,000-acre plantation once owned by William Page in the early 1800s when the cash crop was sea island cotton. A century later it was purchased by Howard Coffin, the developer and original owner of Sea Island. Coffin turned the property into a golf course, which it remains today.

According to a recent appraisal, the three-acre tract purchased by the Land Trust had a conceptual development plan for at least four residential lots. But thanks to a generous donor who provided restricted funds to acquire the property, and because of the collaboration with Kings Point, it was purchased at a “bargain sale” price and the land will be protected in perpetuity.

“There are so few significant-sized tracts of land left to conserve on the south-end of the island,” Emily Ellison, executive director of the Land Trust, cites as the primary motivation for acquiring the property. “This parcel contains the only protected upland acreage anywhere near Kings Way.”

Its maritime live oak hammock is ranked as “G2-Globally Imperiled,” indicating that rare habitats have been greatly reduced over the past years. According to an agreement between the Land Trust and the Kings Point Property Owners Association, the property will remain a protected green space with no public access. “Our shared conservation goals,” added Ellison, “are to protect the marsh buffer and wildlife corridor by leaving the property in its natural state.”

In addition to the forest of live oak, water oak, cabbage palm, sweet gum, red bay, yaupon holly, and other trees indigenous to coastal Georgia, there is a dense thicket of saw palmetto. A recent site visit revealed an active game trail created by white-tailed deer that follows along the marsh and is a hunting avenue for small mammals and reptiles. The ecosystem also provides safe nesting for painted buntings, wood storks, bald eagles, the diamondback terrapin, and migrating butterflies.

Now, that habitat will be protected forever, so will the sensation of returning to a greener, quieter, safer world. “The first time my husband Jonee and I drove across the causeway was coming to St. Simons to celebrate our honeymoon 40 years ago,” says award-winning novelist and screenwriter Tina McElroy Ansa. “On that first trip over the old drawbridge, I heard a voice say, ‘This is where you belong.’ I still get that feeling every time I cross the bridge coming to St. Simons Island. Home.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by the St. Simons Land Trust | Photos by Sue Tuttle.

A Southern Staple – The Pecan Pie

Executive Chef Tim Lensch stepped into the airy dining room of the Georgia Sea Grill. Gingerly, he placed the pie tin on a crisp white table cloth.

“Here it is,” he says with a laugh. “Pecan pie … tried-and-true. It’s a Southern staple, if you’re having a holiday dinner, you’re most likely going to be getting it in one form or another.”

Throughout the South, the dish will undoubtedly be making many appearances over the course of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. But for Lensch and his team, it doesn’t take a special occasion — pecan pie is always on the menu.

“It’s by far the favorite at the restaurant. Our guests just love it,” he says. “We also have a buttermilk pie and a chocolate chip pie. I, personally, like the sugar or butter pies, more of a custard, but they’re all good.”

For Lensch’s version of pecan pie, he applies various tips and tricks that he has picked up from his long culinary career. It has allowed him to incorporate new and bold flavors while cutting down on the mountain of sugar found in traditional recipes.

“I use a lot of the things I found coming up through other restaurants and my Sea Island days. I worked under a lot of chefs and I took my favorite parts of their recipes,” he says.

One of the elements that sets his recipe apart — bourbon. It adds a little bit of a kick to a classic dessert.

“We use Old Crow Bourbon. It has the same notes and tones as many of the other ingredients, like the vanilla tones and the caramel tones. It also gives it a little spiciness that works really well,” Lensch says.

Another piece that sets his pecan pie apart is incorporating local honey into the mix. Not only does it cut down on the syrup and sugar, it adds a lot to the flavor profile.

“I started adding honey and backed off a bit on the sugar and dark syrup. It really sticks out and you can taste the difference,” he says. “We get our honey from Pottlikker Farms, which is where we source a lot of the things we use here at the restaurant.”

Located on Blythe Island in Glynn County, the farm is the brainchild of the Georgia Sea Grill’s owner Zack Gowen. It developed as a way to ensure a steady stream of fresh produce and herbs for the restaurant’s plates.

“The idea was to create something for the restaurant that we could put on the shelves and chef could use in the dishes,” Gowen explains.

What they don’t grow themselves, he and Lensch procure from family-owned farms in other areas of the state. The pecans for the pie, for instance, are purchased from different Georgia vendors.

Connecting with regional farmers is another way of championing freshness and flavor. That proves invaluable when creating a dish, and the same concept applies to the crust.

That’s why Lensch recommends that would-be chefs make their own dough rather than opting for store-bought. It can a bit daunting for novices but he is confident that it will pay off.  

“We make our pie dough here every day. It’s about that freshness and not picking up a product that has been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long. Also, it allows you to customize and make it the way you want. You could choose a substitute for butter. You could use Crisco or lard. You might want a little more salt or sugar in it. Making it yourself, you can do whatever you want with it,” he says.

“Also there’s a sense of gratitude and pride that comes from making everything from scratch.”

As the holidays approach, that concept of gratitude is one that will likely be a reoccurring theme. After such a difficult year, many are looking forward to spending time with friends and family, while digging into some good ol’ fashioned comfort food.

Both Lensch and Gowen can understand that.“Holiday food is comfort food and I think we’re all looking forward to some of that,” Lensch says.  Gowen nods.

“I think so too,” Gowen says. “And everyone has been so great to us and really understanding about everything, which we really appreciate. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone over the holidays.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by Lindsey Adkison.  Photos/Styling by Tamara Gibson.

The Queen of the Canvas

The marsh expands as far as the eye can see, seamlessly merging into blue sky. In an instant, a fish jumps and splashes into the water.

 

“That was a mullet,” Peggy Everett says, her eyes never leaving her canvas.

The painter knows every sound and shape of the Crescent River, the waterway that provides the rear border to her McIntosh County sanctuary.

From the oaks and palms that dot the landscape to the pods of dolphins that often visit her dock, Everett absorbs it all. She is, after all, an artist, and keenly attuned ­­­to the world around her.

“You have to be able to see things … to really see them,” she says, dabbing her brush in the water. Everett refocuses on the painting she is creating.

“You also have to make sure not to dip your brush into your wine instead of your water. That happens a lot,” she nods with a grin and a wink.

 

Her hands move effortlessly, recreating the scene before her with a sense of casual ease that can only come from a lifetime of practice. Another job well done, she gathers her tools — canvas, easel, and paints — and retreats into her waterfront home.

 

“Come on, Ease,” Everett calls to the yellow lab waiting in her yard. He eagerly follows. “His name is Easy Breezy,” she clarifies.

She opens the door to be greeted by Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” pouring from the speakers. Waltzing through the wall of windows, one finds a picturesque artist’s abode.

Palettes, brushes, easels, and paints — this is her world. Of the multitude of works adorning her walls, the majority are creations by her friends and mentors, fellow artists from whom she’s learned much. Each canvas has a meaning and a story.

Everett truly has so many — tones and hues of a truly exceptional life. Throughout her home, tokens and trinkets from her experiences are on display — a cow’s skull and Native American decor from her time spent out West operating a ranch. Paintings crafted from excursions overseas also dot the space. Stepping into her office and library, Everett stops to point at a strikingly realistic portrait of a man.

“Do you know who did that one?” she queries. “Bob Schieffer. He’s one of my students.

 

He is a fabulous artist … he can paint anything. And, he is just the nicest man.”

It’s certainly not her first brush with celebrity. Everett has many a story about meeting the rich and famous through her various painting exploits. One notable encounter was painting alongside Tony Bennett in Florence, Italy.

 

“I was there in 2006 painting with a girlfriend. She knew (Bennett) and we ended up painting together. He wanted to paint next to me because he said I was a serious painter,” she says with a laugh.

Though she is a “serious artist,” Everett doesn’t let her talent or her brushes with stars go to her head. Instead, she’s remained incredibly humble, even with the countless achievements and accolades she has collected.

Everett has long been hailed as one of the most well-respected and prolific area artists. Her work — from portraits to landscapes to abstracts — has graced private collections, businesses, and hotels throughout the Isles and beyond. But while she’s incredibly successful, Everett also makes sure to live her convictions through her work, donating a portion of proceeds from sales to causes close to her heart.

“A percentage of all my sales and workshops go to organizations in Georgia that protect wildlife and our natural resources,” she says. “… also agencies dealing with domestic abuse and violence.”

But never one to rest on her laurels, Everett has used the quiet of the recent quarantine to embrace different themes. While she has continued to take on a number of commissions, she’s also found time to continue learning.

 

“I am still learning on Zoom from Scott Christensen. Ken Wallin, Janet Powers, and Mary O. Smith are local artists who inspire me,” she says. “I have artist friends, like Margaret Durant, who give me honest critiques. Actually, any artist will give you a critique — you might not want to hear it, however.”

Everett has always embraced learning. It began with private lessons in Atlanta when she was a child.

“It started when I was in elementary school and everyone was drawing on the blackboard with white chalk, but I used colored chalk … my teachers made a big deal about what I was doing. They told my mother that I needed to take art lessons, so I started with these Russian portrait painters, Roman and Constantin Chatov,” she recalls. “I remember that later I went to New York and got an Andy Warhol abstract painting and brought it back. Constantin, the husband, bopped me over the head with it. They were pretty serious about art.”

She went on to the New York Studio School studying under Esteban Vencete, Joseph Santore, and Graham Nickson. Everett also studied representational art at the Art Students League of New York, Art Students League of Denver, and The Florence Academy of Fine Art in Florence, Italy. She also logged in time at the Hermitage Group in Colorado.

While she’s studied with the best of the best, today, Everett is a master in her own right. And one of her greatest joys is teaching, sharing what she’s collected through a lifetime of lessons. In pre-corona times, Everett held frequent retreats to teach plein air painting both near and far — as close as Cumberland Island and as distant as Aspen, Colorado.

“I don’t know that I’m a ‘great artist,’ but I do feel like I’m a good teacher. It’s my firm belief that anyone can paint. I’ve never had a student who couldn’t paint,” she says.

“But, you can’t just do it once a week in a class and be a great painter. You might be able to do it three times a week and be Okay … to be great at it, it’s something that you have to do every day.”

Everett herself has certainly found solace in her craft during the troubled times of the coronavirus pandemic. And she feels that it’s something that can offer a sense of comfort to most during difficult periods.

“The role of the arts — whether one- or two-dimensional, photography, poetry, books, film, or music — is to provide a relief and a pause in the noise of the day. It causes one to exercise their imagination, explore their senses, and for a time … escape. It is also a way to be happily alone with yourself,” she says.

“Now, I think, we want the arts to enrich our lives and our living spaces. You might want to learn to make art or you are already making it. Whether it is painting, writing, photography, or gardening, you are creating and using your imagination. If you can imagine it … it can happen — maybe all this craziness has been given to us as a time to dream, inspire, and create.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by Lindsey Adkison.  Photos by Bobby Haven.

The Making Of Mud Mama

Debbie Craig spread the black and white photos across the table. The clothes and furnishings pointed to another time — the 1970s — but the girl in the image, she was easily recognizable.

“That’s when we were in Asheboro, North Carolina, where I set up my first pottery studio, ‘Paradise and Lunch’ in a 150-year-old farmhouse,” Craig says nostalgically, shifting through the photographs.

The younger Debbie Craig in the pictures was different, certainly, but there were many things about her that haven’t changed. She is still married to her husband and fellow artist, Terry. She’s also still passionate about cultivating creativity through her chosen medium — pottery. Her path to becoming a master artisan began in the Classic City — Athens.

That’s where Craig first stepped into a pottery studio, and unbeknownst to her at the time, set the course for her future.

“I started taking a pottery class one night a week at a local studio while I was at UGA,” she says.

Being able to mold and shape something meaningful from a formless bit of clay resonated with Craig in a way that no other artistic pursuit had before or since.

“I was hooked. I had done a lot of creative stuff before that, like tie-dye and making candles — I’m a hippie, but clay was the one thing that I really stuck with,” she says, sitting in the pottery studio of Glynn Visual Arts on St. Simons.

“I’m a Navy veteran so I had the G.I. Bill. When I learned you could go to college to work in clay I was like, ‘you’re kidding me!”

Craig studied under Ron Myers at UGA and he imparted many important lessons to the budding artist. Much like the clay itself, Myers shaped Craig’s artistic methods and teaching skills.

“He’s my ‘mud daddy.’ He’s in his 80s now, but I still visit him,” she says with a smile.

Craig has continued to share many of the lessons Myers taught her. She first began teaching classes locally at Glynn Visual Arts, and more recently at the College of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick.

“It’s crazy now after all of those years in the late 70s, I’m teaching the adult class once a week here. It’s sort of cool that it’s come full circle,” she said.

Of course, both her technique as a potter and abilities as a teacher took time to develop. When she was first starting out, Craig found herself a bit impatient with that aspect of the process, noting that her early work led to a few tears. “I remember that I used to cry because I wanted my pots to look like I’d been making pots for 30 years, but you know, I was a beginner,” she says, shaking her head.

“Now here, 30-something years later, it’s nice to hang in there to see that growth and change.”

In fact, Craig — who is known affectionately as “Mud Mama” to her students — can count generations of students that she’s led and inspired.

“I’ve been teaching here at Glynn Visual Arts for almost 30 years. It’s gotten to the point where the little kids I used to teach when they were in fifth grade are coming to my classes as adults. So, that’s crazy. That’s happened a few times in the last couple of years,” she says.

Her students and the staff of GVA decided to show Craig just how much she means to their community. In recent months, the facility named the kiln house, where students fire their pottery, after her — Craig’s House of Fire.

“They made me cry the other day. They made this,” she says, stepping out to the kiln house. Craig stopped outside and ran her hand over a clay plaque affixed to the exterior.

The neatly designed piece featured the name, Craig’s House of Fire, along with a copy of her signature.

“That’s the way I sign my work,” she says.

It also included a personal touch from her students.

“They put their fingerprints here,” she says, pointing to the imprints along the roofline in the design.

While she has created unbreakable bonds with her students, she’s also shared her artistic passions within her own home. Craig and her husband are both working artists. Her children, too, have always gravitated toward artistic endeavors. In fact, the group has formed their own collaborative — Craig’s House of Art — with one of her sons and daughter-in-law, Liana.

“My husband has a master’s in sculpture, but he’s done photo collage for the last few years. My oldest son graduated from Berry College with a degree in art … in painting,” she says.

“My younger son is out in San Fransisco and he loves to cook. He also approaches things creatively. It’s an ability to define a problem and solve it. It’s also being able to try new things, while being unafraid to fail. It’s just doing something with a willingness to try.”

The willingness to experiment is all she asks of other artists — be they in her family or in her classroom. That element, she feels, is essential to anyone who wants to express themselves creatively.

“The main thing, for me, is being able to define creativity in a different way. So if my students get that, then the rest is just play,” she says.

“I know that, for my family, every time we get together there’s a need to play. If you have an attitude of play when you’re being creative, I think you’re going to be way more successful than if you’re really serious and stressed out.”

Even more, working with clay allows Craig and her students the ability to remain in the moment. And, in that sense, it becomes much more than a simple art class, it becomes a way of escaping the worries of the world to appreciate the present.

“Working with clay is very therapeutic. It forces you to be in the here and now. I think that’s why a lot of people like it. I’ve had people tell me it’s cheaper than going to a shrink,” she says with a giggle.

There is also the human connection between those creating the work and those receiving it. Craig is a big believer in the power of positive energy and how it can steep from the creators into the creations. It offers a bit of magic that keeps her students coming back again and again.

“It’s a shared energy and safe place to be creative. We encourage each other and we create things together. I truly believe that you put your energy into your work. It is so much more special using a mug or a dish that was made by human hands,” she says.

“Together, we have this little clay community. Young moms and retired people … when we come together we’re here in the moment and letting this God-given creative energy just happen.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by Lindsey Adkison.  Photos by Bobby Haven.

Sanding, Shaping, Surfing – Creating Custom Boards

Photo by Sam Ghioto

Sun glitter flitted across the bobbing waves as salty sea air blew across the beach. It was that special time, the time when the world slowly awakens and the Isles embodies the fullness of its title — golden.

It’s a sense of magic that Geoffrey Gable knows well. An avid surfer, he often finds himself gently rocking on the ocean as the sun begins to peak.

“There’s really nothing like watching the sunrise from the water. Surfers are able to get out there and feel the energy of the ocean as the sun comes up,” he says with a smile. “You can’t help but to be blown away.”

It’s this sense of connecting with nature that brings Gable back to the shore again and again. It’s also a passion that fueled much more than a weekend pastime — it has become an outlet for Gable’s creativity, as well as a new professional venture.

A chef by trade, the New Jersey native started exploring the world of hand-crafting surfboards a few years back. “I grew up outside of Philadelphia and I went to culinary school, so I’ve been a chef for 20 years,” he says. “I surfed the whole time, but I got into making the boards about five years ago. I made myself one, then I made my daughter, Addison, one.” From there, Gable’s friends started asking for custom boards of their own. The operation started small, using his garage as a workshop. But, before long, the amount of work he had acquired outgrew the space. “I started doing repair jobs for companies like Turtle Tides, too,” he says. Eventually, he secured his own space in a building downtown, right off Bay and F streets in Brunswick.

The business, called SML Surf Co., is where Gable can often be found, listening to tunes and shaping his latest creations.

“I moved into this spot about a year ago and since then it’s been non-stop,” he says.

The process has changed, though, now that Gable’s popularity has grown. In the early days, he would work on one board at a time, following each project through from start to finish. “It would take me about 40 hours to do one … now I can shape a board in 45 minutes,” he says. Gable works on pieces simultaneously, allowing him to create more boards for his eager customers. “Right now, I have three or four customs. I have a couple of paddleboards to do, too,” he says.

While the design may seem similar, there is quite a bit of difference between the two. Gable notes the surfboards are made from poly-resin, while the paddleboards are crafted from epoxy. “It’s the same thing — fiberglass — but the weight is different. The paddleboards are more durable … you can put more layers on a paddleboard,” he says.

Once he has the base for a board, Gable uses a planing tool — his is vintage from 1952 — to file and shape the piece. The process continues from there, including creating the proper rails for water flow. Each board is designed for functionality and how the individual rider plans to use it.

“It’s all fluid dynamics. It’s kind of wild going from just fiberglass to something that is really functional,” he says, running his hand along an unfinished board.

Functionality and surfing success depend on a number of factors. That’s why Gable likes to get his clients involved in the customization. As a major player in the area’s surf scene, he is familiar with many of the locals’ styles and what they need in a board. But Gable also likes to hear about their goals and what their ideal experience would entail.

“I have watched a lot of them surf, so I know what their style is and what they need. But we always sit down and talk about what they’re looking for and what they want,” he says.

“Sometimes they want one thing … and I have to tell them, ‘look, I don’t think that’s going to work for you. Let’s try this.’ It’s great to be able to go out with these guys and really understand what they need.”

Gable’s intimate knowledge of surfing and his craftsmanship allows him to create the ideal board for those looking to hang ten. And once the functional elements are in place, there’s a lot of room to add in some personality. He uses multiple techniques to bring life to his work. From inlaid fabrics to a kaleidoscope of colors, it all goes a long way toward making a board truly one of a kind. “I think it’s a lot like cooking for me. It’s the same kind of creativity you use when making a meal. In fact, the way I lay my knives out in the kitchen is the same way I lay my tools out here,” he says, standing in his workroom. “The most important thing is for the boards to fit their personality. For me, a lot of my boards end up orange … that’s my color, I guess.”

Like his signature color, Gable’s boards are becoming a mainstay on Isles’ beaches, where surfing has enjoyed a boost in popularity.

“It’s amazing here because it’s still a small group, but everyone is really laid back. In New Jersey, everyone was super-aggressive and you had to fight for waves — it’s not like that here. Everyone is so cool,” he says. “It’s definitely growing. There used to be a time when you’d see paddleboards everywhere … now there as many surfboards as paddleboards, if not more, which is great.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by Lindsey Adkison.  Photos by Bobby Haven & Sam Ghioto..

Weaving a tradition

Fiddler crabs rapped in the McIntosh marsh, creating a cadence that floated on the breeze. On the nearby wooden porch, Yvonne Grovner’s fingers flitted between the rolled sweetgrass and pieces of palmetto. With a small knife, she effortlessly shaved a strip of the saw tooth palmetto from the stalk.

Shifting her hands, she grabbed another tool, a shiny metal device, most commonly used to open cans of paint.

“I filed this to a point on the end, so it’s sharp but you could use a nail too, and all you’re going to do is use this to make a little opening here,” she says, piercing a row of sweetgrass and threading the thin piece of palmetto through.

It quickly fell in line, dutifully stitching the border of her basket together.

“Now, you’re working by feel,” Grovner says without skipping a beat. “So, as you’re working, you have to add grass. To add your grass, just pull you some grass. Split this in half, and add the grass right in the middle.”

Her 10-year-old granddaughter, India, watched from the adjacent rocking chair. Then, she joined in, weaving her own basket under the watchful eyes of the family matriarch.

“I’ve been doing it for about two years,” India says with a smile.

Yvonne beams with pride.

“I taught my husband, Iregene, my children, Monique and J.R. and my grandchildren,” she says. “It’s important to keep the tradition alive.”

And it’s one that is storied and vibrant. The history of weaving sweetgrass baskets dates back hundreds of years on the Georgia coast and in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It was a key piece of the Gullah Geechee heritage, a lineage that blends African tradition with newer elements later developed in America — a patchwork of language, arts, food, and folklore. The sweetgrass baskets are a piece of the fabric of this rich culture. It has always been a part of life for those who inhabit Grovner’s home — Sapelo Island.

But the roots of the craft run even deeper. Baskets are, of course, ancient creations, dating back to the dawn of civilization. Before the barbarous practice of slavery stole countless men, women, and children from their African homeland, these baskets were commonly found in thriving villages along the continent’s West Coast.

African tribespeople crafted them with quality and care, creating strong and flexible vessels used to store precious goods — their grains, their harvest, and even their babies.

When these Africans were so cruelly deposited on shores of America, they kept this tradition alive as they worked the plantations, utilizing this sweetgrass weaving technique in a number of ways.

“They made rice fans to separate the grain from the husk,” she says, demonstrating with a replica.

Many of the slaves on the plantations of McIntosh County would go on to leave bondage behind, settling into freedom on Sapelo Island, located roughly 15 minutes by boat from Darien. Grovner moved to the island from her home on the McIntosh mainland 40 years ago and is one of dozens of full-time residents there today.

She was taught the art of basket weaving by Sapelo master, Allen Green.

“He was a famous basket weaver. He wouldn’t teach anyone for the longest time. We tried to get him to … but he wouldn’t. He said, ‘I’ll take this to my grave,’” Grovner recalls with a laugh.

“But, when he was 90, he got a grant and he taught seven of us on the island. Later, I got a grant from the Reynolds Foundation to teach the kids on the island, and I teach other classes as well … just trying to keep it alive. There aren’t that many people who make the baskets now, not on Sapelo at least. There are a lot in South Carolina.”

Grovner has taken it upon herself to share — teaching her family and those interested in learning within her community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo.

“Of course, there aren’t many people there — only 20-something people, but it’s important to keep it going,” she says.

The materials for the baskets are collected right there, on her beloved island, harvested in the shade of pine trees. Since becoming a master basket weaver, Grovner has made and sold hundreds. The one of a kind artworks can fetch anywhere from $50 to $800. Of course, there are some that are priceless.

“This is one I made that we put India in when she was a baby,” she says, smiling and holding the large basket in her hands. “It was also part of President Obama’s inauguration parade. They wanted something from the Gullah Geechee culture there so we sent this for the Gullah Geechee float.”

Grovner’s life is a testament to her heritage. Not only does she craft the baskets, she also conducts Sapelo tours for the Department of Natural Resources. Her son, J.R., also shares the history and culture through private tours.

“People come from all over. We had a big group from Germany once that came through with an interpreter,” she says.

When Grovner isn’t giving tours or weaving baskets, she can usually be found working on her other great art form — cooking. She’s a master of Southern and Coastal cuisine, even co-authoring a cookbook titled, “Foods of the Barrier Islands.” Many of the entries she can whip up from the produce found in her own garden.

“We grow the Sapelo red peas … everyone loves those. She likes to cook too,” she says with a nod at India.

Like the peas, palmettos, and sweetgrass, there’s a bit of the soil of Sapelo in Grovner’s soul. The tranquility of the island offers solace from the outside world, an ideal space for her art to flourish.

“We don’t worry about a lot of things. It’s peaceful and quiet … there aren’t many places left like Sapelo,” she says gazing at the golden marsh.

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  Words by Lindsey Adkison.  Photos by Bobby Haven.

Murals breathe new life into downtown buildings

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It is almost impossible to believe — but Roderrick Davis has never had a formal art lesson. Yet, the Brunswick resident is a master painter in every sense of the word, creating work is so vidid and lifelike it pops off the canvas.

But over the past few years he’s honed his craft, using brushes and oil to share the stories of his African-American heritage. Davis has made a big splash in the local art world, so when the Brunswick Mural Project got off the ground, it was only a matter of time before he was invited to participate.

“I have never done a mural before and I felt like it was a big step for me as an artist. So when they approached me, I jumped on it,” he says.

He consulted mentors and re-worked designs. But finally, “Dreams Have Wings,” a girl and butterfly, was born — blanketing the facade of 1199 Egmont St., near the library. While the design process took six months, the actual painting took an impressive two days.

“I wanted the kids outside of the library to be able to see it and know that whatever they dream can come true,” he says. “I really love Brunswick and I was so glad to do it.”

Like Davis, Catherine Durrett was also thrilled to be asked to contribute to the effort.

“I did a lot of murals in the past, in fact, I had an indoor mural business in the Atlanta area. So when I heard about the mural project here, I wanted to get involved.”

She was tasked with jazzing up the side of the Subway building, located along Newcastle Street. Like her fellow artists, she was looking to create something that inspired hope.

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Bobby Haven/The Brunswick News

“I came up with this idea of children flying with wings … just something really happy and bright,” she says.

After prepping the wall, she started to bring her vision to life. It took some time, and some re-starts due to inclement weather, since she started last September. But the result was well-worth the effort.

 

“I am so glad to be a part of this project. I’m really happy to see this happening downtown. I love painting murals and this really just spruces the whole area up — a coat of paint goes so far,” she says.

“I wanted to celebrate the diversity of Brunswick and help make people happy, especially after going through all of this with the coronavirus.”

The project has truly been a labor of love and the collective work of a team of individuals passionate about the community. Officials from the city and the Historic Preservation Board, as well as Coastal Georgia Community Action Authority were involved, as is a curatorial committee headed by Elizabeth Piazza and Sara Giannakiakis. Local property owners were key, too, as they commissioned work for their buildings.

“When artists and the community come together to create art that reflects a community’s history, aspirations, dreams, and local culture, the community responds with recognition and pride. It is a beautiful thing,” Susan Riles, former executive director of Glynn Visual Arts, says.

While half a dozen of murals have been completed or are in the works, there is more to come. Ryles is excited about what the future holds.

“We are thrilled with how these murals are progressing and the response from everyone so far, the community, the artists, the businesses and the city has been fantastic. I think folks are beginning to realize that art has a meaningful impact on all our lives and this is a big and tangible example of that,” she says.

 

 

 

Clean, Fresh Flavors… The Best in Summer Beers

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Located on Ocean Drive, Barrier Island Brewing has gained plenty of attention since opening its doors last October.

While it’s new to St. Simons stellar food and beverage line-up, it’s definitely not owner Blake Merrill’s first rodeo. He also operates Half Shell in the Pier Village and his family has owned the adjacent Crab Trap for years. After being in the game for years, Merrill noticed that something was lacking — craft beer.

Luckily, a friend of his Rylie Duncan was becoming quite the brewing enthusiast and, after returning to her St. Simons roots, they teamed up to provide the area with some stellar suds.

“I love beer. I’m a big brewery person. I travel a lot and always go from brewery to brewery,” Duncan says with a grin.

“I went to the University of Georgia and Terrapin was huge. Now, they have like five breweries, but in my day there was only one. It’s just the whole vibe of the brewery, it’s outside, I could bring my dog, there was live music. I just love it.”

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Duncan actually worked in an Alaska brewery for two years before moving back to her hometown in order to help Merrill get Barrier Island Brewery going.

“We’d always thought it would be something great for the island … but it was just a dream for so long,” she says.

Of course, realizing that dream took a lot of work. Not only was nailing down the food portion of the restaurant challenging, Duncan had to perfect her brewing abilities, which is no easy feat.

“I’m not a ‘brew master’ that’s a distinction, but I have been doing it for a while. There is a lot of science that goes into it. I had my beakers out this morning, measuring things out,” she says, standing in front of the enormous steel kegs. “It’s a lot more complicated than people think. It’s so weird, I’m not a science gal by any means … I’m a social worker by trade, but I have learned a lot.”

For the most part, they’ve decided to offer flavors that embrace the Coastal vibe — light, clean, cool, and crisp. They prove drinkable for a variety of palettes — and it’s what summer in the South demands.

“The boat and beach beers … the kinds of things you want to drink outside when it’s 105 degrees out,” she says with a laugh. One of their most popular brews, the Ocean Boulevard Blueberry Wheat, is a perfect example. It combines the freshness of the fruit with the hearty malt, which proves to be a winning blend.

“People love, love, love it. We started that last June and people went crazy for it,” Duncan says. “We actually didn’t have plans to do it year-round but people wanted it, so we decided to add it. It’s an island, you can get away with doing it year-round.”

Another prime summer beverage is the brewery’s Golden Ray, named for the cargo ship that capsized in the St. Simons Sound at the end of 2019.

“It’s our most popular beer for sure. It’s a citrus, hazy New England style. It is done with citra-hops that gives it a flavor profile that includes grapefruit, pineapple, and mango,” she says.

Other brews that can often be found on tap include their Altamaha Amber Larger, Whiting Wheat, Traveler’s Belgian Tripel, and the Lagerhead Turtle Lager. Of course, as a true micro-brewery these are subject to change.

“We always have an amber or brown ale. We’ve experimented with both. We’ve been trying to figure out which people wanted more and I think we’ve decided on the amber,” she says.

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All of these are available for on-site sipping or grabbing a growler to go. In addition to the brews, the restaurant also offers a number of hand-crafted cocktails, as well as wines.

Of course, as a bonafide “beer girl” Duncan is excited to keep brewing up unique blends for customers.

“I’m so excited to try funky flavors and sours. There are just so many things you can do,” she says.

 

 

 

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island.  

Hidden History of Jekyll Island

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Quietly legible on a third floor wall in Hollybourne Cottage, part of Jekyll Island’s historic district, is a pair of hand-drawn silhouettes that have gone unnoticed for decades.

The artists were daughters of two wealthy families who visited Jekyll annually during an era when the island served as an exclusive winter getaway for millionaires.

Taylor Davis, a historic preservationist for Jekyll Island Authority, has walked past these drawings on the wall more times than he can count. But the silhouettes remained unseen by Jekyll staff until 2018, when a contractor’s grandson noticed the drawings, which according to a scribbled date on the wall were made in February 1902.

“We had walked past it how many tens of thousands of times and had never noticed it,” Davis says.

These drawings are a small, intimate piece in the rich tapestry of Jekyll Island history. Hidden gems like this can be found throughout the island’s historic district by anyone with a curiosity and a willingness to stop and look closely.

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Jekyll Island in the early 1900s was the winter vacation spot for several well-known names in American history, including the Rockefellers, the Pulitzers, the Vanderbilts, and others.

“The history is the one that a lot of people more readily associate with Jekyll nowadays, is that millionaire’s club era history,” says Alexa Orndoff, JIA director of marketing and communications.

But a trip to Jekyll Island can reveal pieces of its history that few know, and some questions raised by these small details remain unanswered.

One such question is whether the front door into Villa Ospo, once the home of oil tycoon Walter Jennings, is actually as historic as it looks.

“It is not a 1927 door,” Davis says.

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Jekyll staff have two theories. One is that it’s a mission door, found on an international trip. The other theory, though, raises even more questions. Some have speculated that the door was beaten by chains and scuffed up in 1927 to make it look older.

“This is one that we’re still in the process of trying to uncover its original history,” Orndoff says.

And the true story may forever remain a mystery, Davis adds.

“That door ain’t from around here, I’ll just say that,” he says.

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A hidden escape

During the island’s millionaire club era, Jekyll Island served as a playground for those who could afford the steep price of vacationing there. The island at that time was accessible only by boat, and families would transport not just their suitcases but also their vehicles, staff of servants, and all other accommodations to which they were accustomed.

Their cottage homes, many of which still stand today, were much smaller than the mansions they owned up north, but the families likely lacked few comforts.

Almira Rockefeller, wife of businessman William Rockefeller, had a different sort of comfort in mind as her family renovated and expanded Indian Mound Cottage. Her priority was peace of mind.

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Almira’s intense fear of dying in a house fire led her to insist that the cottage have escape routes, including a slide from the top-floor servants’ quarters and windows that swing open like doors from both her bedroom and what is presumed to be her children’s bedroom, allowing them to climb out onto the roof, shimmy around the building and climb down a garden trellis outside to safety on the ground.

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“If a fire breaks out in one of these, you’ve got to get to the fire escapes very quickly,” Davis says, noting that construction materials for homes during this period could quickly catch fire and be destroyed.

 

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A less picturesque feature

Visitors to Faith Chapel, the oldest house of worship on Jekyll Island, are likely to notice the two colorful stained glass windows, one of which is signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Distracted by these beautiful pieces of art, it’s possible to miss the grotesques (the term for an interior gargoyle) staring creepily from beams above the pews.

The original steeple on Faith Chapel, built in 1904, had to be replaced due to a leaking problem. The gargoyles perched on the exterior corners of the chapel roof once could have served their intended purpose of gargling water down their spouts. But these gargoyles are relatively new additions, as the originals have deteriorated and were replaced. With the new roof, gargoyles no longer had a purpose to serve. Today, they simply add a gothic look to the historic structure. 062920_JIA_20200508_HISTORIC-RESOURCES_DSC08970

Inside, the original grotesques are made of carved wood and come in a variety of shapes, including that of an eagle, a boar, a horse, and a dragon.

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A discovered drawing

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The silhouettes are not the only time stamps of history sketched onto the walls of Hollybourne Cottage.

Merely feet away, lovebirds Pam and Bobby squeezed their names into an arrow-stricken heart, along with the date of Sept. 6, 1970.

Davis, noting that vandalism is not encouraged in or on any Jekyll Island location, pointed out that the pair snuck upstairs during a time when the house was not in use.

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And the house itself, he says, is a gem of Georgia history. Visitors can immediately recognize that the house is structurally different than the island’s other cottages. The home was built in 1890 by well-known bridge builder Charles Steward Maurice, one of the first club members to move to the island.

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“You have this Yankee bridge builder who comes down and falls in love with Jekyll, his wife does too, with the history and everything,” Davis says. “So he saw the Horton House ruins on the north end of the island, the colonial era structure, and he decides he wants to build his house of the same material.”

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The house is set up today in a permanent state of restoration, to showcase how JIA staff preserve these structures. Davis is able to show visitors how Maurice incorporated elements of bridge design into the structure of his home. He used wooden trusses and long steel bolts that run from the ceiling of the first floor into the top of the truss on the third floor.

“Everything about this house, all these elements, speak to the quality of construction,” Davis says. “It’s not as flashy as many of the other houses, but it’s just such high quality.”

Davis has spent countless hours inside the cottage doing preservation work, yet even he was able discover a new historic gem recently. The drawn silhouettes upstairs had somehow remained a secret until 2018, as no archival documents or other information mentions their existence.

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“We don’t believe that anyone else had recognized them or realized that these were here,” Orndoff says.

Emily Maurice, the daughter of Charles, is drawn alongside her friend Alice, another club member’s daughter. They also wrote a French poem beside their artwork.

“A volunteer’s sister-in-law is a French teacher and she read through it, and she said, ‘well, they definitely were learning French,’” Davis says.

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It’s discoveries like this, Davis says, that help bring history to life in ways that are best understood through firsthand experience.

“There’ve been a lot of preservation efforts here since the mid- to late-1980s, so when you stumble on something that really wasn’t known about before, it’s really exciting,” he says. “I get to be a steward and find my place in this long line of people who’ve been seeing to these structures.”

Source:  Golden Isles:  The Magazine for Brunswick, St Simons Island. 

Nature’s Majesty: The beauty of Golden Isles’ Waterways

But all was calm ahead. The water before him was as still as glass, reflecting the azure of the sky and the swaying sage of the marsh grass. His keen eyes scanned the horizon, looking for the telltale signs of the wildlife he’s come to know so well. Egrets and herons, dolphins and manatees — as someone who has spent his entire life on the Golden Isles’ waterways, spotting them has become second nature.

Of course, there’s one that the Glynn County native sees less frequently — alligators.

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“The gators here get big and big gators don’t get that way by being seen,” he says with a smile.

Even though it’s something he does every day, the majesty and beauty never grow old for Gowen, who has parlayed this passion into a profession. He co-owns Southeast Adventure Outfitters with Cindy Dennard. The business, which offers everything from kayak tours to stand up paddle boarding to boating tours, has been open since 1994.

But Gowen’s experiences along the coastal waterways began much earlier.

“My family and my extended family always had interests on the coast. One of my jokes is that my DNA is well-engrained in the food chain,” he says with a laugh. “And it’s true, especially up in McIntosh County. But doing this, starting back when I was a kid, it was a way to follow my passion.”

Over the years, the intricate system of trails and tributaries have become an integral part of his life, and sharing these otherwise unseen areas offers tourists and locals a perspective that they’d never see otherwise.

“My go-to line is: ‘Coastal Georgia has a huge trail system it’s just all wet.’ Our kayaks and powerboats are our boots, backpacks, and bikes for exploration. I also say you could go every day and never see it all,” he says.

“There’s over 2,500 miles of interconnected waterways just within our coast. It’s pretty amazing. The great majority of our coast and barrier islands are undeveloped which is unique for the Eastern seaboard.”

Gowen’s family also owns Village Creek Landing, which offers an event space, and Southeast Adventure leases the dock as an outpost for water-based activities. Regardless of which method he is sharing, he’s grateful to offer a peek at the unrivaled beauty of Coastal Georgia.

“I love it when we have grandparents and grandkids. I always snap pictures of them along the way and email them back,” the skilled photographer shares.

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Like Gowen, Sam Ghioto also relishes the magic of the area’s waterways. The St. Simons Island native didn’t truly begin taking advantage of the beauty of his homeland until he began working at Southeast Adventure Outfitters.

“I started working (there) as a kayak tour guide last May. A few months before joining the crew, it dawned on me that I have not taken advantage of exploring our unique and beautiful ecosystem, although I have lived on St. Simons Island my entire life and have gone boating with my dad,” Ghioto says.

“So, I began running tours and learned a lot. On top of kayaking, I did a couple paddleboard tours. What I enjoy most about paddleboarding is finding the flow of the moment.”

062920_TBN_9673As the water moves beneath his board, Ghioto feels a sense of balance and peace that can rarely be found anywhere else.

“That’s when nothing else seems to matter. Whenever I’m out paddle boarding or paddlesurfing, I soak in the sun and breathe in the salt air. I become very mindful of my surroundings because the ocean is so expansive and can be very powerful,” he says.

Paddleboarding also allows a deeper connection to the ocean and its inhabitants, as there is little buffer between the participant and the sea.

“It’s definitely humbling because you’re subject to the tide and the wind. I prefer the challenging days that test my capabilities in the surf. When the conditions are rough, it makes everything seem so small in comparison,” Ghioto says.

“It’s always magical when you’re sitting in the surf, waiting for a wave, and a dolphin surfaces. If you listen closely, you can hear them breathe before you see them. When one gets close enough, I can see their eyes, and I know that I’m looking into another soul.”

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Captain Phillip Kempton also loves the way the sea and surf offer an escape from the trappings of daily life. A lifelong boater, Kempton moved to the area after retiring as a project manager from BellSouth in the early 2000s.

“I initially wanted to be a fishing guide … I’ve owned over 20 boats in my life. After I got my license and started taking people out, I discovered that’s really not what I wanted to do,” Kempton says.

Instead, he spoke with Cap Fendig, whose family has operated a local tour businesses for decades. Fendig offered him a position as a first mate as he worked toward his master’s license.

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“I told him that I’d have to go home and pray about it and Cap called me when I was in the parking lot. He said his wife had heard me say that and she really wanted me to come work for them,” he says.

So, he did. Eventually, Kempton teamed up with Capt. John McCleskey to purchase Fendig’s Jekyll Island-based tour business. Housed at the wharf in the historic district, Jekyll Island Dolphin Tours offers a number of excursions, including private tours for families.

For Kempton, the waterways of the Golden Isles provide an escape unlike any other.

“We had originally looked at moving to Destin, Florida, but we went down there and there are just boats everywhere. You can barely move,” he says. “Then we came here. You can be out on the water all day and never see another boat. And it’s so pretty. I tell people that I’ll never live anywhere without palm trees and pelicans.”