Every February, artists, outdoorsmen and nature lovers gather in the Lowcountry for a three-day event unlike any other. At The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, attendees truly get to experience the best of the great outdoors. Where else can folks sip on the region’s tastiest bourbon, beneath mossy oaks, while getting to see a bald eagle show off his impressive wingspan?
Now in its 34th year, SEWE continues to attract visitors from across the country eager to learn more about the winged-beauties and various creatures that share our marsh-filled peninsula. Not only does this event generate funds to keep conservation projects blooming, it also serves as a launching pad for up-and-coming-artists. To be featured at SEWE is a high honor – one that has made many a career soar.
“It’s really exciting and almost surreal to have been chosen as a vendor at SEWE,” said Tom Mauldin, owner of HookNHide – a company specializing in handcrafted fish-inspired belt buckles and bottle openers. “The exposure that artists get at the event is amazing.”
As a second-year participant, Mauldin has seen firsthand the positive impact SEWE has had on his business. The amount of buzz generated by being showcased at the renowned event can connect an artist to the right audience. An avid fisherman and resident of Sullivan’s Island, Mauldin found plenty of inspiration for his innovative product line in the environment that surrounded him.
“I would definitely say that being on Sullivan’s was a great experience for me during the growing stages of HookNHide,” said Mauldin. “My love for the ocean and the natural setting of this area definitely fueled my creative juices.”
Fusing art with functionality, HookNHide products make the perfect gift for that male in your life who seems nearly impossible to shop for. The detailed depiction of a bull dolphin or rainbow trout stirs emotion in those who have reveled in ocean waves and choppy chill.
“I am so grateful to everyone who has dedicated time and effort in helping me to be where I am and especially all the great customers who like my product,” said Mauldin.
Another SEWE artist who gathers inspiration from her natural surroundings is Haley Keisler, owner of Hermosa Jewelry. At the young age of 12, she discovered her passion by reconstructing pieces of vintage jewelry into new accessories. By the age of 15, she has already started doing trunk shows and selling to a loyal clientele in Charleston. Now she is a complete one-woman-show, singlehandedly orchestrating all aspects of her thriving company.
“ I feel so blessed to have found my passion as a young girl,” said Keisler. “It has given me a direction to pursue and brought so much purpose to my life.”
From delicate turquoise earrings to chunky, multistrand abalone statement necklaces, the variety of stunning pieces Keisler crafts is unmatched. She has found great inspiration in her various travels, which always seem to provide new experiences that translate into fodder for her designs.
“I feel honored to be one of the featured artists for SEWE,” said Keisler. “I am a conservationist myself and love that this event celebrates wildlife and nature, which is what makes Charleston such a special place for me to call home.”
Like Mauldin, Keisler is fueled by the very landscape her backyard provides. She counts on her time spent emerged in nature to leave her recharged and eager to jump into a new project.
“The Lowcountry has directly inspired my “Oyster Collection,” made from locally found oyster shells,” said Keisler, who rocks this specific creation at all the season’s roasts. “The idea for this collection started from a walk on Morris Island on a hot summer day. I find so much beauty in the colors, textures and shapes of shells.”
SEWE wouldn’t be complete without a man who has made a budding career out of helping others discover the limitless joy that our local waterways and uncharted paths provide. Chris Crolley, of Coastal Expeditions, has been hailed by Garden & Gun as one of the state’s most knowledgeable naturalists. With a curious nature and an unrelenting desire to learn more about our ever-changing ecosystem, Crolley and his team of guides make the outdoors accessible to all. Built on adventure and fueled by fun, Coastal Expeditions takes exploration to another tier.
“By February, our guides are ready for the temperatures to warm so that the spring season can begin,” said Kari Crolley, Chris’ wife, who also happens to be a skilled plant pathologist and horticulturist. “While the SEWE weekend always seems to be the coldest weekend of the year, it signals to everyone that it won’t be long before they are out on the creeks leading kayak tours every day.”
At SEWE, Coastal Expeditions plans to display a whole collection of various finds that only the Lowcountry can provide. In their interactive tent, participants can get up-close-and-personal with discoveries that one would find on display in a natural history museum.
“As naturalists, we enjoy being able to interact with guests at SEWE, so we fill our tent with Lowcountry treasures like skulls, shark teeth and fossils for people to pick up and investigate,” said Crolley. “Our guides are ready to talk one-on-one about the expeditions that we lead to help them plan an outing with us or on their own. It’s an interactive tent that just gets better every year!”
During SEWE, Coastal Expeditions will have scheduled excursions to Bulls Island, a local landmark known for its hauntingly beautiful trees, unique variations of shells and 293 species of birds.
“It’s a gratifying experience to be the person to take a group down a saltwater creek for the first time and watch their emotions as nature unfolds in front of them,” said Crolley. “We simply get them to the right place, while the fields of spartina, Spanish moss, overhanging oaks, bottlenose dolphins, black skimmers and the sun setting over the marsh do the real work.”
Get wild this winter. With fine art, dog retrieving competitions at Brittlebank Park, chef demos at Marion Square and live animal presentations by famed conservationist Jack Hanna, this is one event you’re not going to want to let slip away. Tickets are available online for SEWE, which is scheduled for Feb. 12, 13 and 14.
By Kalene McCort.