Recently, Wall Street Journal reporter Nancy Keates and photographer Kelli Boyd visited Daufuskie. Take some time to read her article on this complex island we love so much!
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Check out his article!
Chase Allen / Uncategorized / American Made, Chase Allen, coastal art, daufuskie island, hilton head, Holmes Team, Jacob Preston, marshside mama's, Martha Stewart, Palmetto Bluff, Silver Dew Pottery, The Iron Fish Gallery, tour daufuskie, water taxi / 0 comments
Chase Allen’s Iron Fish art gallery isn’t a place the average Lowcountry tourist happens upon by accident. Though a few visitors might wander down the dirt path tucked deep in the forest of Daufuskie Island and be drawn to the metal decorations on the walls of an old cottage, more and more are actively seeking out Allen and his seascape of fish and mermaids wrought from metal. The Iron Fish gallery has become a real destination and one of the most successful art galleries in the area.
Years before the Iron Fish art gallery existed, there was an unhappy business school student who happened to take a class in ceramics. Throwing pots inspired Allen: “I realized the pleasure of working with my hands.”
Through this happenstance ceramics class, the creative seed was planted, but before it could sprout, Allen had finished school and had gone to work as a real estate agent. It wasn’t long before he realized that selling property was not something he enjoyed. It was, however, what introduced him to Emily and Lancy Burn, owners of Silver Dew Pottery on Daufuskie Island. Remembering the joy he found in the pottery class and seeing that others were pursuing their art, Allen decided to take a huge risk. “I decided to live across from them. Life is too short to not do what you love. I quit my job and rented the place on Daufuskie with a friend.”
Some might say that moving to an island accessible only by boat to start a business might not be the wisest financial strategy, but Allen was determined. “I got a job as a waiter at Marshside Mama’s Cafe. I could bring in $150 a night, which was good money.”
After he had the income to cover his basic living expenses, Allen focused on making friends. He started meeting the other sculptors in the area and became friends with Jacob Preston, a gallery owner in Old Town Bluffton and potter renowned for his expert skill. Although ceramics was his first love, Allen didn’t want to move in across the street and compete with his friends Emily, Lancy and Jacob. So he found another medium in which to work: metal. He started welding iron scraps together into abstract sculptures, and later he began welding metal into fish, mermaids and other marine subjects that he is known for today.
When he decided to open his gallery, Allen looked for inspiration at the shops of artists he admired. He was impressed by the way his friend Jacob Preston operated his gallery. Sales are under the honor system; there are no salespeople, and visitors who wish to make a purchase simply leave their information on a sheet. So, following Preston’s model and advice from a friend, Allen put his art on his porch with a hand-written note telling visitors that they may take the art they like and leave their money in the “honor box.”
One day Emily and Lancy stopped by and bought one of his pieces. “It was the greatest vote of confidence they could have given me,” remarked Allen, and he started to believe that he could make it as artist.
Tools of an Artist
As Allen experimented and refined his craft, he began using blacksmithing tools to hammer and create indentations in his material. As his fish sculptures became more and more popular, his success created a problem. The fins of the fish sculptures required crimping to create regular ridges in the metal. Though the results might look similar to the simple crimped edge of a pie crust, crimping iron is physically demanding. It involves using a blacksmith hammer and a sheet metal crimper tool to achieve the desired effect. The sculptor must hammer the tool every few inches of the metal, which is a long, difficult process. “I thought I was going to develop a shoulder problem!” Allen explained.
For the sake of his throbbing shoulder, Allen realized that he needed to make his crimping process more efficient. He knew of an industrial crimping machine, but its cost was prohibitive. Recalling the old adage “Necessity is the mother of invention,” Allen, a creative problem-solver, solicited several friends to pool their money, knowledge, experience and tools in order to construct their own industrial iron-crimping machines. Each person contributed $1,000 to purchase the necessary supplies. These craftsmen, artists and industrial engineers gathered in an assembly line, and they built their own crimpers!
Years later, in his blacksmithing shop Allen has an odd-looking machine with a tire on top. This peculiar creation is actually the crimping machine that accelerated Allen’s production to an industrial level, thereby helping him become financially secure.
Part of a Community
Besides having equipment challenges, as an artist living on Daufuskie Island, Allen needed a way to connect with other artists, his friends and his existing and potential patrons. Social media was the perfect solution. Allen started a Facebook page and posts regularly about his work. When someone sends a photo of one of Allen’s sculptures installed in their home, Allen posts it on Facebook. Facebook not only allows Allen to communicate with the people interested in his work, but it also gives Allen a great way to garner feedback and ideas from his fan base. For example, when one of his patrons made a suggestion to backlight some of the creations with LED lights, Allen took the suggestion, and the new lighted sculptures became very successful.
Allen strongly believes in giving back to the community. In 2014, 13 years after his daring leap out of office life, Chase Allen competed with over 1,000 artists for the American Made Award sponsored by Martha Stewart Living. With 55,000 votes, Allen won the Audience Choice award and its $10,000 prize. He donated the greater portion of his winnings to the Holmes Team, an organization dedicated to finding a cure for brain cancer. The organization is named for Holmes Desmelik, a six-year-old boy with an inoperable brain tumor; Holmes is the son of Allen’s high school friend. Allen donated the remainder of his winnings to the Alzheimer’s Association, Doctors Without Borders and the Spondylitis Association of America.
Despite his professional success, Allen has never turned his back on the people who supported his craft. Just last year, he wrote an article for his website urging Daufuskie visitors to check out Emily and Lancy Burn at Silver Dew Pottery, and to this day Allen speaks with immense respect of Jacob Preston’s pottery gallery to journalists.
After abandoning a career in the office to become an artist 14 years ago, Chase Allen not only turned his dreams into a reality, he used his success to bolster his local community.
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23 Things to Do On Daufuskie Island:
#1 Rent a golf cart for a self-guided tour. With only a couple paved roads on the island, most visitors love navigating the “old timey”, tree canopied historic dirt roads that are unique to Daufuskie Island. Of course, rentals come with a complimentary map and orientation.
#2 Book a guided history & artisans tour if you’d rather get the local’s perspectives. One common denominator for all Tour Daufuskie guides is that they must be Daufuskie Island residents!
#3 Book a kayaking or stand-up-paddle-boarding tour with Tour Daufuskie. You will be able to choose from paddling the shores of the beach or navigating the turns in the rivers and salt water creeks. Either way, nature will find you!
#5 Visit renowned coastal sculptor Chase Allen at his Iron Fish Gallery & Studio which was established on Daufuskie Island in 2001. Allen & his artwork have been featured in national magazines such as Coastal Living, Southern Living, and Martha Stewart Living and he was the 2015 winner of the prestigious Martha Stewart American Made national contest. Allen’s coastal sculptures are collected worldwide but handcrafted and sold exclusively on Daufuskie Island.
#6 Visit Lancy & Emily Burn at The Silver Dew Pottery. Not only is their unique pottery beautiful, well respected, and very sought after, but Lancy’s stories of his life growing up on Daufuskie Island will blow your mind.
#7 Visit the Daufuskie Island Community farm which is a volunteer-run and member-supported farm. All buildings on the farm where constructed of timbers milled directly on the property. Currently the farm houses goats, chickens, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, a pig, two dairy cows, and a garden & orchard.
#8 Visit Daufuskie Island Wine & Woodworks. Here, boat builder Mike Loftus handcrafts small wooden specialty boats in his beautiful state-of-the-art timber framed workshop. Attached to this workshop is a store where specialty wines, beer, and gifts can be purchased. Mike is usually open Saturday afternoons, so come by and see what he is working on!
#9 Take a walk or spend the day relaxing on Daufuskie’s approximately 3 mile long underpopulated beach. Only at the height of Daufuskie’s tourist season would you see up to 300 people on the entire 3 mile stretch of sand! More than likely, you will see so few people that you will feel as though you have arrived to your own private island.
Visit the First Union African Baptist Church which was built in 1884. FUABC is the only active church on Daufuskie and is one of the most beautiful historic churches you will ever see. Church services run every Sunday at 10am.
#11 Visit Mary Fields School which was immortalized by Pat Conroy in his first best selling book, The Water Is Wide which was also made in to a movie called Conrack, starring John Voight.
#12 Take a tour of the Daufuskie Island Rum company where founder Tony Chase and his hard working partners distill their very own rum which is available for purchase and taste tests! Each bottle of rum is distilled, bottled, and labeled right here on Daufuskie Island. Tony Chase prides his company in being a soley American-made business. Everything down to the screws holding the building together were made in the USA!
#13 Golf at Bloody Point and enjoy some of the most beautiful golf holes you could imagine. This Daufuskie Island course is under-played, so enjoy your leisurely round with no pressure coming up from behind.
#14 Grab a bite to eat at renowned Marshside Mama’s, Lucy Bell’s Cafe, The Daufuskie Crab Company, or The Eagles Nest Restaurants. From the classic island “dive” to fine dining, there are no wrong choices.
#15 Horseback ride on the beach! Yes, this is a once in a lifetime experience! Contact the Haig Point Equestrian Center for inquiries.
#16 Meet & chat with the people in the community who chose to live on this remote island with so few modern conveniences. Daufuskie islanders are known to be fiercely independent yet very friendly and welcoming.
#17 Visit Daufuskie Peach where you can stop by Jan Crosby’s store to select from her line of handcrafted soaps or other natural body works. Daufuskie is home to many independent & talented artisans and entrepreneurs.
#18 Ask around to see if the locals will direct you to their favorite “Devil Crab Ladies”. If your lucky enough to find one, you will see why these ancient yet delicious recipes are synonymous with Daufuskie Island.
#19 Want the full tilt true island experience? Rent a house and stay awhile! Rentals vary from quaint historic bungalows to beach front mansions. Either way is a win. Try VRBO.COM
#20 Daufuskie is a favorite nesting stop for loggerhead sea turtles. If you’d like an informative up-close look at the beloved “loggerhead sea turtle”, book a tour with Tour Daufuskie. This option is only available during nesting and hatching season(May-September).
#21 Biking Daufuskie Island is a blast! Warning….during dryer times, peddling through the sand can be a bit strenuous so be prepared with water and bug spray in the event you need to walk through the “soft spots”.
#22 Bring your gear for fishing and crabbing. You might find that it’s challenging to “hear about” the good fishing holes but trust us when we say there are many!
#23 How about an eco-tour? Tour Daufuskie also offers guided birding & eco-tours. Learn all about Daufuskie’ large bird population and also about the flora and fauna that is so unique to this pristine island. Binoculars are included.