A Little SoHo in the LoCo
Story by Carolyn Males + Photography by Chandler Hummell
The air hums and crackles with colors, ideas, energy. On the gallery walls. At work stands and easels. At communal tables where creators dream up projects, teach classes, or chat with anyone who drops by. Aspiring and seasoned artists and art lovers, locals and island visitors, and the just plain curious alike float in and out. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in this innovative space carved out of a once ramshackle old building in Dunnagan’s Alley on the south end of Hilton Head?
Welcome to Bo Art, the Lowcountry’s latest creative community: part gallery, part studio, part maker space. This collaborative trend has been popping up around the country and now thanks to a visionary group of professional artists and art advocates, we now have one south of the Broad. Founding member and president Bobbie Fertig calls it “SoHo in the LoCo,” a fitting sobriquet for this cutting edge arts workshop, a linchpin for an area slated to be a major island arts corridor stretching from The Cross Island Parkway to Coligny and beyond.
Bo Art sits across from The Hair Loft above Ruby Lee’s South and Encore Consignments and the soon-to-open Bad Biscuit, a sister restaurant to Lowcountry Backyard.
Entering the building’s side door, I take the stairs to the second floor. Here I look up and spot the first Bo Art installation, a dramatic chandelier whose eight-foot span has been crafted of copper pipes by resident artist Jack McNulty. Then walking through the open glass-and-wood barn doors, recycled from the old Aqua Grille and Lounge, I step into the realm of possibilities.
The first room opens to a gallery displaying fine handcrafted jewelry, paintings, chainsaw art, fused and stained glass, pottery, woodcrafts, and more. But I quickly discover this is no ordinary art storefront or arts center.
Tucked into each corner of this room are three resident working artists.
Logan “Leggs” Edelman sits at an organically shaped table fashioned from slab of an old walnut tree. Amid spools of fine gauge copper, gold, and silver wires, he wraps semi-precious stones and crystals in intricate designs for necklaces, pendants, rings, and earrings. Stopping mid-twist on a bumble bee jasper piece he’s working on, he explains how often the shape of a particular stone determines how he will secure it. “After that I have creative liberty for the wire pattern and I might just throw in a secondary gemstone like an emerald or a sapphire.”
James McGrath crafted Logan Edelman’s work table from a 50-inch-wide slice of tight grain walnut that he reclaimed from an old tree in Ohio.
A pressing need for a lighting fixture over a Thanksgiving dinner table was the impetus for the copper chandelier over the stairs leading to Bo Art. Jack McNulty’s large group of relatives was coming to visit so he built a big table and crafted the fixture to illuminate his family dining room. Holiday over, he donated the chandelier to the art space and is working on a smaller one for his home.
Logan Edelman sports a row of six tattooed tokens along his left arm symbolizing focus, balance, creativity, adventure, appreciation, and trust. He had them inked when his California arts cooperative Nomadic Artifacts adopted the philosophy of giftivism, giving in selfless ways to radically transform the world. The collective would make wire versions of these tokens which they gave away. Magic happened. Donations flowed in and people joined the artists to work on community betterment projects.
James McGrath once lived off the grid on Daufuskie Island with girlfriend Christina Rodgers in a tiny 200-square-foot home he built from salvaged materials. For six months they roughed it without hook ups to local power or water supplies while a reality TV show filmed their progress. Today McGrath is working on a tiny home park for homeless veterans in Savannah.
Mira Scott designed the colorful new bumper sticker for the Sea Turtle Patrol, a coalition of volunteers who monitor sea turtle nesting and hatching along Hilton Head beaches.
Interested in creating? Bo Art will be offering a variety of classes in a variety of arts led by local, regional and nationally known artists. Join as an artistic member and you’ll get a discount on classes, access to the makerspace as well as certification instruction on equipment. Sponsoring members, those who donate to Bo Art, get a variety of perks including discounts and passes.
boarthhi.com • 843-290-2868
Meanwhile across the way, I find Mira Scott dabbing dots and swirling curvy lines onto one of her whimsical nature paintings. The vibrant images and patterns rendered in acrylic, gouache, and mixed media speak of her four-decade love of the Lowcountry. What’s more, she’s taken this same imagery and applied it to jewelry, textiles, ornaments, and even coloring books where she invites children, teens, and adults alike to create their own interpretations of her fauna-and-flora compositions.
Bobbie Fertig calls out, “hello” and I wander over to where she’s working on a portrait that she’s fractured into an intriguing double face. It’s a departure for the painter who has focused on more traditional portraits inspired by historical photographs or by present-day faces that intrigue her. Fertig is always happy to encourage young artists and when a mother brings her young daughter in to Bo Art, it’s Fertig who counsels the girl on how to deal with rejection—a component of any artist’s career.
That’s the clean arts room.
Now I step through the second doorway into what the artists cheekily call “the dirty arts room,” a bigger open space with an industrial air. The four artists in this section work with more heavy-duty materials. Here Tayloe Cook has built a station with potters wheels, drying racks, and kilns where he creates signature plates, bowls, and cups. Today as he sits at his wheel, his hands molding clay for a tumbler, he tells of plans to bring in national experts to teach workshops at Bo Art. While we talk, Rory, his frisky Blue Heeler, prances up, nudging me with a “pet me, pet me” look.
Wood and metal workers, James McGrath and Jack McNulty with their saws, hammers, clamps, and power
tools anchor the back wall. On this visit McNulty is still assembling his area but he takes a few moments to describe an upcoming project, sketching out a pine cone-shaped lighting fixture with copper pipes spiraling in concentric circles.
McGrath, a whirlwind of action, however, is more difficult to pin down. When I ask about a typical studio session, he laughs. “Typical? One day I could be working on a wood table; on another, a metal sculpture. Or I may be pulling spoons apart for making pendants, or hammering copper, or making “Harry Potter” wands.” As evidence, he holds up a metal rose he’s constructed from recycled tin and copper that he’ll give out to cheer lonely folks on Valentine’s Day.
A South End Renaissance
For years spots along the Palmetto Bay Road corridor at the south end of Hilton Head sat bleak with empty or half-used, run-down buildings dating from the late 1970s and early ‘80s. But today the area is changing, imbued with a new energy as artists, community activists, and businesses have stepped in to set this nascent renaissance in motion. Bo Art is one example of that flowering.
The Hilton Head Institute provided the first spark for the arts organization, initially advising the artists in getting the art space, one of several they hope to come. The owner of the Dunnagan’s Alley building, Robert Graves, had worked with Charles Fraser in developing Hilton Head and saw this new venture as an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy on the island. His daughter Pam sums it up, “We are delighted to be the first to launch this idea, to be part of the future.”
Town Council Member David Ames, a strong proponent of this rejuvenated arts district, sees Bo Art as a giant step into the area’s future. His vision? He’d like to draw arts and culture lovers, particularly younger generations. “I’d like to see it as a center of activity for people who are interested in arts and entertainment and where people can live and can walk between places. If we can create an area that draws people together as a gathering place during the day and in the evening, I think it will be a home run for the community.”
Over in the front area of the room, Christine Hanses holds down a nook with a stand for making stained glass and a beehive kiln for fusing and firing glass into bowls, dishes, wind chimes, night lights, and other art objects. Patiently she explains her craft, introducing me to the processes of cutting, grinding, soldering, and firing while throwing in terms like slumping (shaping glass over molds by heat) and frit (granulated glass).
Needless to say the work schedule timing for this side of Bo Art is an intricate ballet—sawdust doesn’t mix with dry paint, wet clay, or molten glass unless it’s on purpose––so those dustier projects are planned for after hours or even off-site.
But it’s the rows of wooden tables in the center of the room that are the big game changers. Here, smack dab in the midst of this communal atelier Bo Art holds small classes in woodworking, glass, pottery, jewelry making, and any other creative pursuits that capture local interest.
Here, too, is where artists might work one-on-one with a student. At one point I spot Bobbie Fertig, charcoal stick in hand, giving intern Lanier Bradberry an impromptu lesson in sketching a still life. Another time I find Maddie Terry, under Tayloe Cook’s guidance, designing a mold for scallop-shaped dishes.
But it’s also the spot where creatives gather over coffee and tea to dream up artistic and community projects. Giving back to the community, it turns out, is an important component of Bo Art. Beach clean ups, working on environmental issues, turtle patrols, helping others are on the agenda. “Art inspires communities to come together and create the world we want to live in together,” declares Edelman.
Now as dozens of inspirational ideas dance through my head, I leave, energized by the collaborative spirit of this new venture. I can’t wait to come back.
Artists at Work
Tayloe Cook grew up on Hilton Head and apprenticed with Jacob Preston, Bluffton’s tallest potter. If you’ve ever dined at Lucky Rooster here, Farm in Bluffton, or Parcel 32 in Charleston, you’ve eaten off his dinner plates.
Logan “Leggs” Edelman first put down his creative roots in California where he learned to wire wrap crystals and semi-precious stones. While some of his stones are from dealers, he often goes mining for gems which he fashions into his original jewelry designs. His other passions? Chess and collaborative community projects.
Bobbie Fertig discovered artist Gerda Christofferson’s portraits of Native Americans on a trip to Colorado, sparking her own interest in historical portraiture. Upon moving to the Lowcountry in 2010, Fertig found inspiration in old photographs of 19th and early 20th Century Gullah culture.
Christine Hanses dates her love of glass art to grade school where she made her first mosaic plate for a school hallway. As an adult she took classes in stained glass and began selling it to co-workers and then on Etsy. Today, her works range from jewelry and plates to table sculptures to brilliantly patterned mosaic benches.
James McGrath, a self-described jack-of-all-trades, is a triple-threat entrepreneur with his McGrath Custom Hardwoods and Tiny Homes of Hilton Head businesses and his community service projects. As a strong advocate for workforce housing and community art projects, he works in a variety of mediums from concrete to copper to reclaimed wood.
Jack McNulty comes from a hardy stock of can-do pioneers and recycling craftsmen. His family tree includes a grandfather who built lamps from hard hats, boiler parts, and hub caps, so it’s only natural that this former chef left the heat of the kitchen to concentrate his creative talents on reclaimed wood and metal projects.
Mira Scott, one of the island’s strongest proponents for the arts, has always been a mover-and-shaker since she first stepped foot on Hilton Head in 1978. It’s not surprising that this Québécois native who grew up with a zookeeper-dolphin-trainer father would find her inspiration in the natural world. Toss in her love of pattern and detail which she credits to her mother’s Russian-Polish heritage and the result is dynamic colorful paintings with roots in both Canada and the Lowcountry.
and…Rory, the Studio Dog. Expect lots of tail wagging from Tayloe Cook’s young Blue Heeler, a kind of Australian cattle dog. When he’s not greeting visitors, the spirited pup hangs out in the back room under a worktable or lies content in his crate.