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Coastal Carolina

My parents took us to Pawleys Island each summer, usually for a week in August, two if my father had had a good year. It was both rite and ritual. Kids encountered on that spit of sand on the south end are friends today; some are clients. I marked my maturing years by that annual visit to the vista that allowed swimming in a perfect ocean on one side and crabbing in the creek on the other. One summer my brother Mark and I spent hours gigging for flounder, but never got the hang of it—and never got a flounder either.

Summers at Pawleys meant rainy days at Brookgreen Gardens—my introduction to Disneyesque Live Oaks and the sculpture of Anna Hyatt Huntington. The Hammock Shop sold prints by artists such as Mark Catesby. Decades later, I see how that subtle exposure helped inform a passion for Southern art.

Houghton Cranford Smith painted the creek on the back side of Pawleys just a few years before my first trip there in 1958. He painted a place I recognize from those halcyon days, a place that looks much the same even now. Fellow dealer and friend Peter Rudolph alerted me to another painting of the sea and the dunes with the creek at Pawleys beyond. This canvas also showed two of the old houses; the pitch of their roofs and the chimneys, dormers, and gables tell us that they were between the two causeways, one north and one south, but only of each other and with no other point of reference. You see, before Smith vacationed there in the early fifties, the most influential Georgia painter of the twentieth century, Lamar Dodd, found inspiration in the same scenery. The painting Peter brought me—discovered at an estate in coastal Maine—is one of a scant handful Dodd created in the summer of 1938, as well as several other seasons at the island colony.

Today, Pawleys Hammock Shop is big business, anchoring a strip of come-afters that offer their wares to the thousands who now vacation on the little island and the surrounding communities that have developed in years since. The King’s Highway has changed, and there are chain grocery stores in place of Lachicotte’s where we—and I’ll bet the Smith and Dodd families—shopped. Pawleys’ post-Hugo houses have changed, too, but not the people. My children found Pawleys early on through our own family vacations and have been fortunate enough to claim friends with houses on that long narrow elevation of sand between the Atlantic and the marsh. Generation to generation.

The beach in South Carolina is about as far from the Midlands as they are from the mountains, and the equidistant aspect of the two is often cited by Carolinians as one of the compelling reasons they live here. Smack dab in the center of the state lies Columbia, the hottest place in the world. I have to think that had I been placed there by fate, I would have headed for one geographic extreme or the other. Located in the Piedmont foothills, Spartanburg is well north of the middle—close enough to the mountains to have felt we knew them. For that reason, when the time came to move, Jane and I chose Charleston. Perhaps it was our fascination with the “all” that is Charleston—or maybe it was simply the salt air.

“Feelings are bound up with place,” wrote Eudora Welty. A Carolina beach stirs in me cherished memories of childhood summers—carefree, sun-drenched, Southern—a time when my world was sure and most anything was possible. Houghton Cranford Smith and Lamar Dodd’s canvases transport me back to those uniquely summer sensibilities—and to a place still, blessedly, available.

Houghton Cranford Smith (1887-1983)
Pawleys Island, South Carolina (1952-54)
Oil on canvas
13 x 23 1/8 inches
Signature Details: Lower right
Owner: Private Collection, Atlanta, Georgia
1451 River Road · Yemassee, SC 29945 · 843.412.8738
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