Women's Association of Hilton Head Island finds new home for Walter Palmer bird

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 8, 2013 

Lois Schuhrke sits with the whimsical Walter Palmer bird sculpture at its new home, with Char Long, immediate past president of the Women's Association of Hilton Head Island, left, and current president Judith Tyler.

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    Email David Lauderdale at dlauderdale@islandpacket.com.

Thanks to Lois Schuhrke for sharing a new chapter in the life of a humorous Hilton Head Island bird.

The story involves the Women's Association of Hilton Head Island, which Lois served as president for the 2004-05 season.

'Tales of Hilton Head' Finds a New Home (or the Story of the Lonely WAHHI Bird)

By Lois Schuhrke

It all started in 2000 when the Women's Association of Hilton Head Island began planning for a celebration of its 40th anniversary. President Jackie Cordray appointed a committee of members to plan an appropriate commemoration of the event.

The committee felt that a gift of public art would be consistent with the association's longtime commitment to community beautification, as well as to its origins as a garden club. After much discussion with Town of Hilton Head Island officials -- and the invaluable help of committee member Mary Ann Peeples -- the group commissioned a sculpture by renowned local artist Walter Palmer, known for his whimsical bird sculptures. It would be donated to the town and installed at the then-new Shelter Cove Community Park.

The sculpture showed one of Palmer's iconic pelican-like birds, seated on a park bench reading a book titled "Tales of Hilton Head." The bird had personality. As the sculptor described him, "He's kind of an orator. He's expansive. He's full of himself. He's not just reading, he's narrating to the public."

Palmer hoped people would join the bird on his bench, have their pictures taken with him, and talk to him.

In November 2002, a gala dedication ceremony was held with the artist and town dignitaries as well as Women's Association leadership. An editorial in The Island Packet noted that, "Now, thanks to a visionary and generous donation by the Women's Association of Hilton Head Island, everyone can claim to own a Walter Palmer bird." ("Sense of Place," The Island Packet, Nov. 24, 2002.) We toasted the bird with punch and then left him there on his bench, in a little grove of trees, to be enjoyed by the visitors to the park.

However, time moves on and last year the town decided to make a land swap to facilitate the re-development of the Mall at Shelter Cove into the Shelter Cove Town Centre -- including the little grove where our bird read his book. When I saw the news articles, alarm bells went off. I had been a member of the committee that commissioned the sculpture, and knew that he might be in the path of the bulldozers.

So I asked Char Long, then president of the Women's Association: What would happen to our bird? It turns out that no one had given him a thought. In fact, it seemed that he had been a lonely little guy for quite a while, forgotten in his overgrown wilderness.

Char went to work to find him a better home. After a few obstacles and false starts (and all we need to say about that is that Char doesn't give up easily), a wonderful solution was found.

Michael Marks, president and CEO of the Coastal Discovery Museum, welcomed the little Women's Association bird at Honey Horn and even paid his moving expenses. He was relocated to a spot adjacent to the Around the Horn Nature Trail in front of the Armstrong/Hack House. There, he once again gets all the attention he so clearly feels he deserves.

The next time you visit Honey Horn, go say hello to the "Tales of Hilton Head" bird and take a photo with him. The museum reports that he's become so popular with islanders and visitors alike that he'll never again be a forgotten or lonely bird.

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