A riverboat captain named Joshua John Ward invented the rope hammock on what is now known as South Carolina’s Hammock Coast in 1889, seeking a way to get a cooler
A riverboat captain named Joshua John Ward invented the rope hammock on what is now known as South Carolina’s Hammock Coast in 1889, seeking a way to get a cooler night’s sleep in the hot Lowcountry summers. Residents have been crafting unique creations here ever since. Here are five talented artisans hailing from Pawleys Island, Murrells Inlet, and Georgetown — all communities of Georgetown County and the Hammock Coast — whose work you definitely won’t want to miss.
Many come to the Hammock Coast for our pristine beaches, but beyond the surf and sand, visitors discover rich American history, award-winning golf, world-renowned Brookgreen Gardens, beautiful Huntington Beach State Park, and myriad outdoor adventures. Your perfect Hammock Coast vacation awaits!
Kelly Atkinson uses a toothbrush to flick specks of raw sienna and white oil glaze onto the bottom left corner of a 2-by-4-foot canvas. The paint gives the sand on the beach a depth that, along with the layered glazing on the seagulls standing near the surf, makes the painting come to life. She’s created the scene from a collection of photographs she took of the gulls. Atkinson paints in all mediums, and, like many of her large oil paintings, this one was preceded by a small watercolor study.
Atkinson grew up in an artistic home. The daughter of a pianist, she learned flute and violin and started painting at a young age. At Queens University of Charlotte, she studied business with a minor in art. Continuing to paint after college, she often used her three sons as subjects. But it wasn’t until she moved to Pawleys Island in 2004 and began painting in a studio with other artists that she really started to focus on her art. In 2014, she joined forces with several local artists to purchase Island Art, a fine-art cooperative gallery in Pawleys Island that features the work of several artists, including Atkinson and her twin sister. Atkinson’s oil paintings depict local scenes like the Black River, egrets in the marsh, and the farmland of nearby Williamsburg County, where she owns a country home. She also enjoys teaching beginner art classes, encouraging her students to express themselves through paint.
Happy Places, Susan Albright’s fashion and home decor shop in Pawleys Island, is full of color. Dresses, scarves, pillows, and wallpaper feature her brightly colored original prints that celebrate the Hammock Coast’s charm, like her gator-skin pattern offered in an array of vibrant colors.
While working as an interior designer, Albright started toying with designing her own prints and making pillows with them. A local entrepreneur invited her to do a pop-up shop and, when that went well, encouraged her to open a brick-and-mortar home decor store. Not long after, although she had no prior experience with fashion design, Albright began designing dresses using her prints out of her own need for clothing that was breathable in the hot South Carolina climate. She sourced United States-made organic polished cotton and worked with local seamstresses to bring her designs to life. Now, her prints adorn shirts, skirts, silk scarves, and sandals. Her nature prints feature magnolias, palm trees, or patterns inspired by oysters or the spotted shell of the leopard crab, while her Pawleys Island toile includes iconic landmarks like the Pawleys Island Chapel and the historic Sea View Inn. “I love doing toile,” she says. “You can put places that people recognize on them. They are a way to tell a story.”
When Zenobia Harper was growing up, young girls in her Gullah community — the descendants of the Gullah-Geechee population in South Carolina, a culture created from the melding of West African cultures when enslaved workers were brought to Georgetown County to grow rice — would play with bottle dolls. The dolls were made from empty Coca-Cola bottles, or other types of bottles, with grasses sticking out of the neck for hair. The girls would hold the dolls between their knees and braid the grasses to learn how to braid hair. “That was an important thing in the Gullah community,” Harper says. “Because oftentimes, you could be responsible for braiding your younger brothers’ and sisters’ hair before they went to school.”
Later, as an adult, Harper lost a brother to AIDS. To cope with the loss, she started making her own dolls from bottles. “I think that [my brother] gifted them to me from the other side as a way to deal with my grief,” she says. Two decades later, she still makes them. Having learned to sew at an early age, she crafts the dolls’ dresses from brightly colored fabrics — batiks are her favorite. Although she has expanded to working with other objects as the base, such as wireframes or paper, she continues to make dolls from glass bottles because it reminds her of the fragility of human beings and that we should be careful with how we treat each other. Harper’s Gullah dolls can be viewed and purchased at the Rice Museum in Georgetown.
Ted Watts of Watts Woodwork in Murrells Inlet likes to say he got into making furniture the hard way. After studying art at Ringling School of Art and Virginia Art Institute, he couldn’t make a living painting, so he started building houses instead. That evolved into building tabletops and signs for restaurants. “Then I just got a lust for fine furniture,” he says. That was 44 years ago, and his work is still evolving.
Watts likes to use traditional joinery — mortise and tenon, dovetails — to create pieces that no one else has ever made, carving scenes into the wood that speak to the interests of the person he’s building for. A lifelong surfer, he gravitates toward sea themes, like a mahogany Victorian four-poster bed featuring a mother sea turtle on the headboard, crawling up a beach to lay her eggs, with baby sea turtles in varying states of hatching topping each of the posts. Or an entertainment center with tambour doors — a challenge to make, but he enjoys the struggle— with carved coral that matches the coral in the customer’s couch cushions. “Before I draw something,” he says, “I want to get an idea of the feel of the person to find out what they want.” And what Ted Watts wants is to keep building beautiful, one-of-a-kind furniture.
Jerry Caines, owner of Caines Boys Decoys in Georgetown, applies a light touch of iridescent paint onto a feather, intricately carved from tupelo wood, then dries the paint with a hair dryer. In the sun, the shimmer of the paint is just enough to catch the light, illuminating the yellow, red, green, blue, and purple feathers of a wood-duck decoy. “That’s the way you gotta do it to make it look like a real duck,” he says. “I’ve had people at the Wooden Boat Show look at our ducks and ask us, ‘Who taxidermized them for you?’”
It takes Jerry a couple of months to finish a decoy, cutting out the rough shape of the duck with a bandsaw, trimming it down with a Foredom tool, and then using a Dremel to add the sharp detailing of the beak and the feathers. He spends two to three hours painting each feather, using three or four shades of color that he blends while they’re still wet. Before his brother Roy died in 2021, the two carved together — Roy using the larger tools to cut out the rough shape, Jerry focusing on the detailed carving and the painting.
The pair began carving in 2005, having left their previous careers as commercial shrimp fishermen when imported shrimp began to flood the market. They had no prior experience carving, but their grandfather and great uncles had carved duck decoys that had been used by wealthy and powerful men — the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill — for duck hunting at nearby Hobcaw Barony. As of 2005, one of the famous Caines decoys could fetch a price in the hundreds of thousands. (Recently, a pair sold for more than one million dollars.) So a friend suggested that Jerry and Roy give it a try. It turns out, the brothers had a knack for it, and within months, they were winning blue ribbons in worldwide decoy-carving competitions.
Long before Roy’s passing, the pair had decided that if one of them died, the other should keep up the craft. So Jerry learned to do his brother’s job and continues to carry on a Caines family tradition — one with important ties to the history of the Hammock Coast.