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Livin' the Wildlife in Charleston
Published Monday, February 16, 2009 3:50 AM
By Paul Zoeller
Summerville Journal Scene
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Children and adults cheer as a labrador leaps off a dock and effortlessly flies through the air before landing into a pool of water. Not the typical event I think of when planning a trip to an art show, but neither is an exotic petting zoo or taxidermist booth.

Ever since moving to South Carolina, everyone has given me a list of must-see events to attend. Usually every list contains one event with a name so long in has been shortened into an acronym. The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition or SEWE, now in its 27th year, attracts artists from around the world to exhibit their pieces at the show. The expo is so big it is spread across several sites in downtown Charleston and attracts 40,000 visitors during the 3-day event.

The work of artist Peggy Watkins is displayed at Charleston Place.

Thousands of khaki-wearing, camera-toting patrons descended on downtown Charleston during the weekend, hunting for that perfect picture or sculpture. They swarmed from exhibit to exhibit at every location, picking out everything from arts and crafts to guns and boats.

I never realized guns and boats were art? I soon realized the event was not just an art show but a celebration of wildlife.

Jessica Claflin, educator at the Center For Birds of Prey, holds a Harris Hawk during demonstrations at Marion Park.

With such beautiful weather on Friday, I visited Marion Square and watched the Birds of Prey demonstration. Handlers, on top of the Embassy Suites building, released a pair of hawks and spectators watched as the birds soared down to the square. Cameras clicked, kids pointed and everyone clapped as the birds perched waiting for the next command. The local pigeons were not as thrilled by the demonstration and made a hasty departure upon seeing the predators.

Besides the birds, there was a reptile exhibit and exotic petting zoo, giving everyone an opportunity to see local and exotic animals up close.

A visitor is given the opportunity to hold a ball python at the Edisto Island Serpentarium exhibit at Marion Square.

While I enjoyed the Birds of Prey demonstration and seeing a baby alligator up close, my son pointed out that the water buffalo had pooped, which made his day.

Rob Reagan, of Summerville, watches as his English Springer Spaniel, Buck, leaps into the water during dock dog competitions at Brittlebank Park.

The next stop was Brittlebank Park. Flying dogs were the main attraction at the park as spectators lined an above ground pool to watch dogs launch off a platform into the water. Some of these dogs were leaping 20 feet or more before landing, splashing the audience with waves of fur-filled water. Nothing better than wet dog smell all over you.

It usually started with the dog's owner exciting them with a chew toy and then throwing the chew toy into the water. The dogs of course would fly off the dock after their favorite toy. Sometimes this approach did not work and the dogs would not dive into the water.

As fun as it was to see the dogs fly, it was even more fun to watch the handlers beg the dogs to jump when they didn't want to get into the water. I guess no toy was worth getting all wet and cold for.

Some dogs, like Kaiser, caught big air during the competition.

There was so much to see between Brittlebank Park and Marion Square that I almost didn't want to go inside and see the art.

Camden Brown, 4, of Conway, has green lights on his head used to track the blood of a deer. His father said Camden just liked the cool lights on his hat.

The art exhibits were scattered around town arranged according to the type of art. All the paintings and sculptures were found in one area while wood working and photography were in another location and so on. It made it easy to travel between locations and know what I was going to see.

Summerville artist Mark Ray passes time sketching at his booth.

The work of these artists was really amazing. The details and colors in these paintings brought the scenes to life. I caught myself staring at this picture of a Cheetah for the longest time. Maybe it was fear because I swear the Cheetah was staring right back at me and about to attack.

I visited with Paul Rhymer for awhile. He creates bronze sculptures and one of his pieces, a hippo floating in the water, resides at Shepard Park in Summerville. Rhymer explained how the process worked. First he designs the piece in clay before making a silicone mold used to make the wax mold. That mold is sent to a foundry where they make a ceramic mold used for the final bronze sculpture. A very long and involved process.

Sculpture Paul Rhymer begins the process in clay for visitors at Charleston Place.

Although I had an appreciation for the art, all of my favorite pieces were out of my price range.

A beer bottle fishing lure-- trying to catch a couch potato?

At another stop I found vendors selling antique items such as lures and decoy ducks. I thought the art was expensive but some of these ducks were worth more than my car. As one guy explained, in 10 years, my car won't be worth the paper the title is printed on but these duck decoys will double and triple in value.

Not just any duck though. The value depends on the artist who designed the decoy, the age and the condition of the decoy.

Collecting duck decoys is big business. Some at the show were selling for more than $10,000.

Again, I left with a smile and appreciation but not with a duck. Great investment, but how would I explain that to my wife?

Jimmy Fortenberry, of Frog Pond Music, makes his wooden frogs croak at his booth.

I did find one place I could afford at the Gaillard Auditorium. Everything from floating key chains made out of sycamore wood to wooden frogs and jewelry could be found here. I had to buy an alligator-tooth necklace and who could pass up a hammock chair?

Spectators could participate in the casting demonstrations at Brittlebank Park.

The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition lived up to the hype-- it was an entertaining event. The expo lasts three days and it takes all three to see everything. Even if you do not like art and hunting is not your thing, many conservation exhibits and presentations were available.

Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at

Comments (2)

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Wildlife Expose
Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:00 PM

I can not imagine a decoy duck would cost as much as $10,000, unless it's filled with gold inside???? The colorful woooden frogs were so cute. I always have a thing for frogs anyway....

Posted by: Co Hoa
Great Blog on SEWE
Tuesday, February 17, 2009 11:05 AM

What a great blog! I missed the SEWE this year, but your pictures brought all the memories from previous years back. I also love the way you include Summerville in your thoughts at all times. Thank you!

Posted by: Jennifer

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