Meet a few locals who are responsible for some of the Lowcountry’s greatest celebrations.
Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Lisa Staff
It’s no secret that we love a good party here in the Lowcountry. It seems like every weekend on the calendar brings up some festival or another, and when there’s a rare lull in the proceedings, you’ll usually find a gala or a house party to ensure you’re never more than a few days away from living it up. Even our signature athletic event, the RBC Heritage, is widely viewed as a gigantic party that happens to have a golf tournament attached.
The point is, we know how to have a good time. So much so, in fact, there are those who have elevated it to an art form. These are the island’s party people, skilled professionals who have made your unforgettable evening their life’s work. Whether it’s managing every detail, keeping the party going until the wee hours with spectacular lighting or giving you a work of art to commemorate the event, they are a huge part of why there ain’t no party like a Lowcountry party.
Meet our three…
This live event painter preserves memories on canvas
It’s one thing to capture a moment in time with a photograph. Not to denigrate any photographers out there, but the fact is with their particular art the camera does a lot of the heavy lifting. You recognize the moment, you aim the camera and you press a button, and just like that the moment is memorialized.
But capturing that moment in a painting, setting brush to canvas even as the moment passes and painstakingly recreating it from memory stroke-by-stroke, now that takes a real gift. It’s not a gift that Chloe Strickland was born with, but one that was molded from the clay of her natural talents over time.
Her gift for art in general manifested itself at an early age. She was named “Artist of the Year” in first grade. “At that point, I realized I saw things differently than other kids,” she said. “I just had an understanding of form and color.”
By the time she was 12, she was selling her paintings at a booth inside Gigi’s Bluffton that her father helped her set up. Beyond just helping to put together her ad hoc studio, her father was an enormous influence early on. “My dad’s a cosmetic dentist in Savannah, and I always thought I was going to be a dentist,” she said. “I just thought this would be something I’d do for fun on the side, but my dad encouraged me (to pursue art).”
At that point, I realized I saw things differently than other kids,” she said. “I just had an understanding of form and color.”
Perhaps her biggest influence as an artist came from famed area architect Doug Corkern, who took Strickland under her wing and pushed her toward a more fast-paced style of art. “He would time me, saying, ‘You have 10 seconds to draw this building. Now you have 30 seconds. Now a minute. He told me how to see what’s important in something before you draw it. You have to put the foundation down.”
Her supernatural talent to not only capture an image beautifully, but to do so in the time most of us take to just assemble the easel, served her well as she made her way from Hilton Head Christian Academy to SCAD. “My teacher, Ms. (LouAnne) Barrett, told me, ‘You’re going to a school where everyone’s as good as you. The only thing that will help you stand out is how fast you are. Don’t be a perfectionist, just do it.’”
Strickland took that advice and ran with it, completing three-week assignments at SCAD in a single class period and distinguishing herself among the art school’s legendarily talented student body. It was then that her boyfriend, Nashville photographer John Hillin, gave her the idea to put her speedy skills to use as a wedding painter. Her first go at it came about when she approached Danielle Seagle, a local wedding planner, to see if she could do one for free – just to see if she could pull it off. As it happened, Seagle was getting married that weekend and was happy to let Strickland give it a shot.
That first painting turned out beautifully, and word of mouth spread. “It was kind of a chain effect that I didn’t even know was possible.”
Strickland would travel nearly every weekend during her time at SCAD, devoting her weekdays to her studies. Having graduated in May, she now enjoys a well-established brand as an in-demand wedding painter.
This lighting expert knows the ABCs of LEDs
Robbie Eastland never set out to be the Lowcountry’s guru of party lighting. But when you’re already in demand as he is for outdoor lighting in general, it’s an easy stretch.
“It’s not something we advertise,” he said. “But if someone requests it, we’ll happily do it.”
Eastland is the owner of NiteLites Outdoor Lighting of Hilton Head, a company devoted to creating upscale outdoor lighting schemes that enhance natural beauty and safety for homes and businesses. You’ve probably seen his work at places like Fischcamp on Broad Creek, HUSK Savannah and Skull Creek Dockside. His illumination setups create ambience while remaining unobtrusive.
“If you ever have to squint or it’s too harsh to the eye, you’re not going to enjoy yourself,” he said. “If you know what you’re doing, you can create a really nice, pleasant setting.”
So how does someone in the residential and commercial outdoor lighting business wind up creating some of the most memorable special occasions in the Lowcountry? In Eastland’s case, it started with a desire to help others.
If you ever have to squint or it’s too harsh to the eye, you’re not going to enjoy yourself,”
“I’m a member of the Hilton Head Area Home Builders Association, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of different builders. One builder in particular, the owners of Shoreline Construction, approached me about providing some additional lights for their charity event called Dress For Success,” he said. “I like to do charity work and give back to the community where I can, and this was a great cause.”
Originally Eastland planned on just making a monetary contribution and volunteering his time, but then the conversation turned around to lighting and inspiration struck.
They started brainstorming possibilities for string café lighting, tiki torches and step lighting during the event itself. “They gave me a shoutout at the event and I just started getting phone calls after that.”
Those phone calls resulted in NiteLites illuminating stunningly beautiful events from Palmetto Bluff to private homes around the Lowcountry. Each one is a customized lighting strategy that emphasizes the natural beauty of a place, while keeping it safely lit to keep the party going into the wee hours. Sometimes, the party goes even longer than that.
“A lot of times people end up liking the way it looks and keeping half of what we set up at the event,” he said.
This event planner is the go-to for unforgettable parties
The University of Georgia Redcoat marching band has played at some amazing venues, from the storied field of Sanford Stadium to the famed Rose Parade in Pasadena. To this list you can add Palmetto Bluff during a wedding that marks one of the biggest jaw-dropping surprises that wedding planner Kelli Corn ever pulled off.
“The bride’s family were all Georgia grads – aunts, cousins, grandparents, everyone. The groom called me and told me he wanted to do something cool to surprise them,” she said. Together, they hit on hiring the Redcoats. Now, rounding up college students in the middle of summer wasn’t easy, but pulling off miracles has sort of become Corn’s stock in trade. “When the family walked out and the band was there playing the Georgia fight song, it was epic. Her dad and all her brothers were crying… The emotion that they created was really cool.”
Over the years, first as Palmetto Bluff’s in-house wedding planner and then on her own as an independent wedding planner, Corn has created hundreds of moments like these. While she’s made an indelible mark in the wedding and event planning industry locally, it’s miles away from where she began her career.
“I started at Dell right when the dot com bubble burst. It was an odd time to be starting a career in that industry,” she said with a laugh. When the dust cleared, she landed a job in catering at a Hilton property in Texas. She distinguished herself quickly, and before long was working with ClubCorp, setting up events and celebrations for the golf giant’s membership.
Her move to the Lowcountry brought her to Palmetto Bluff, where she was hired as the resort’s very first dedicated wedding planner. Under her guidance, Palmetto Bluff rose from an infrequent site for weddings to one of the premier places in the world to tie the knot.
The weddings are my baby, if you will. It’s where I feel most comfortable, but corporate events have really let me push my creativity,”
“I worked hard on that,” she said. “When I first started we were just trying to get weddings, so we were booking everything. In 2007 we did 74 weddings and I just thought, ‘This isn’t smart.’ We started driving exclusivity and it just built the brand throughout the wedding world.”
Running a multi-million dollar wedding program began taking its toll, however, when Corn realized that with the grueling pace she was missing her children’s milestone moments. “I got home from a wedding at 2 a.m. and woke up my husband, saying, ‘When did we switch Gracyn from rice cereal to food? When did Will start tying his shoes? I’m not remembering the little things. I’m not remembering the kids getting older.'”
She made a budget the next morning for going out on her own. If she cashed in everything, she realized, she would have six months to book a wedding. It didn’t take that long.
“I remember my client called and left a voicemail. I’m listening to it and she says, ‘I’m so sorry…’ And my head just dropped. ‘…that it took me so long to make a decision, but we’d love to work with you.’ It was definitely a big win, and it gave me confidence that I’d made the right decision.”
If that didn’t do it, the ensuing six years have definitely backed that up. Beyond glamorous weddings all over the Southeast, Corn has worked with Outside Hilton Head’s Destinations DMC, setting up everything from lavish themed parties to the Coca-Cola hospitality tent at the RBC Heritage.
“The weddings are my baby, if you will. It’s where I feel most comfortable, but corporate events have really let me push my creativity,” she said.
And it’s a creativity that has made her the Lowcountry’s go-to for unforgettable parties.
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