Dewees from within
By Dylan Sharek
To those living on the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Mount Pleasant, Dewees Island is a bit of an enigma. Many view it as an exclusive club, available only to a handful of people wealthy enough to build a home on a private island. Some could even be convinced that the island exists only one day a year as nothing more than another forgettable anchoring point for viewing the Forth of July fireworks.
So when I was assigned to cover an art show on Dewees, it was fair to say I was skeptical that the article would interest anyone other than the 50 or so people living on the island during the summer. And if the article went to print towards the end of the season (the art show runs through Labor Day), that number would halve; pertinent only to the island’s 26 year round residents.
But this is less of a story about an art show and more of a revelation about one of the area’s most gorgeous and avant-garde barrier islands.
Despite being just minutes from modern day civilization, it’s easy to get lost in the unspoiled views of the marshlands and Castaway-like jetties of earth that speckle the waterways throughout the twenty minute ferry ride from the Isle of Palms Marina to Dewees aboard the Aggie Gray. By the time I arrive, I’ve already taken two pages of notes on the beauty of the ferry ride alone.
Anne Anderson, one of the very few permanent residents on the island, meets me at the dock. She’s short, middle-aged and lively, with brownish red hair and featuring a permanent pair of sunglasses. After exchanging hellos, she immediately tells me that, “We [Dewees Islanders] consider ourselves a part of the Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, and Mount Pleasant.” It sounds rehearsed and probably is, but over the next forty-five minutes, it becomes exceedingly clear to me that Mrs. Anderson feels it is important to unravel the misconceptions surrounding Dewees.
She guides me to golf cart #125, where we meet up with her husband. He’s taking the return ferry back to Isle of Palms for wine, golfing, and pasta salad. The island’s inhabitants are completely reliant on the mainland for food and other goods, since one of the island’s founding covenants is to never have a strip mall or even a stoplight.
After saying our goodbyes, Anne and I shuttle off to the Landings Building, a glorified treehouse dedicated to the study and preservation of the nature on the island. We breeze through a 15-minute tutorial led by the island’s naturalist, Lori Wilson, on the turtle population and the resident’s loyalties to its preservation.
They reveal that of the island’s 1200 plus acres, only five percent will be disturbed by the 150 planned homes that the island may eventually harbor.
“We live in accordance with nature and most people don’t know that about Dewees,” Mrs. Anderson says.
As we exit the building and once again board cart #125, Mrs. Anderson casually mentions the many donations islanders make to local wildlife fundraisers, the countless hours spent searching for harmless solutions to the island’s increasingly aggressive alligator problem, how the residents use strictly eco-friendly electric golf carts, and how the houses are nestled deep in the woods to foster that sense of living with nature.
“It’s not a place for everyone and maybe that’s why people don’t get it…you get wet when it rains here,” she smiles.
We pull up to the Huyler House, the island’s community building where the art show is being held. Titled, “Dewees From Within”, the collection looks more like an art-heavy living room than a traditional art gallery.
Seeing my surprise, Mrs. Anderson says, “Everything is created by property owners or by their extended families. Almost all of the families have some sort of art ability. They’re very talented.”
And she’s right. There’s Allen Mitchell’s hand-made fly rod, constructed entirely of local bamboo, silk thread, and recycled brass. There’s re-used bottle caps moonlighting as magnets created by the island’s children. There’s a mirror framed by iron tresses dredged off of the island’s sea floor. And besides one or two kitschy pieces that could have been found in any number of shops downtown, this stuff is good.
Within all of it, there is one essential element. From a quilt capturing a crane’s flight to eye-popping photos by Tom Jenkins of burning island sunsets and oft-unseen heron mating rituals, it comes to me: Dewees Island is not inhabited by stuffy, holier-than-thou naturalists, but by people that truly care about nature and are willing to do whatever they can to protect it.
For most of the residents, their homes are less an escape or expensive island getaway, and more a way of ensuring that nature will always be protected somewhere, even if it is just a 1200 acre island.
Proceeds from “Dewees From Within” will be contributed to the island’s nature projects.