Harbor Island is unlikely to see any accumulation of the white stuff this year to make a snowman, but it has an unplanned substitution — courtesy of Hurricane Matthew.
“When life hands you a hurricane that tears down your trees — you make snowmen,” said Mia Moran-Cooper, a part-time island resident.
Moran-Cooper is one of 18 Harbor Island residents who had a snowman, crafted from Hurricane Matthew debris, appear in their yard in the middle of the night.
The snowmen are being created by Doug Fender, a retired FBI bomb technician and special agent.
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“It is just for fun,” Fender said. “There is no money involved. It is to bring good will and a smile to faces.”
Fender is one of many people across Beaufort County finding creative ways of using hurricane debris to bring the community together.
A replica of a Vincent Van Gogh painting, for example, decorates a debris pile on Hilton Head Island, while others have found ways to craft debris into items such as ornaments and serving trays to raise funds for charity.
Fender said he was looking for an outlet to funnel his frustrations following the storm and to try to bring the Harbor Island community together. With the help of his wife, Donna, the debris-snowman idea was created.
When he was an FBI agent, Fender said he was on the ground for many disasters, including the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the Pentagon terrorist attack on 9/11.
“It is different when it is in your own back yard, and you think, ‘I could be walking back to nothing,’” Fender said. “We still haven’t got away from it at all. I look out my back door and see piles of logs. I look out and I think of them as snowmen, but it is hard to get away from it.”
Moran-Cooper, miles away in Pittsburgh, doesn’t wake up daily to the debris piles. Yet, she said she still carries the burden of the storm.
Fender’s snowmen, wearing oyster shells for feathers and Spanish moss for hair, makes everything a little easier for Harbor Island residents, she said.
“It is hard to look at these and not smile,” she said. “This is a phoenix rising from the ashes. These snowmen made from trees toppled by Hurricane Matthew are a symbol of renewal, and that Harbor Island will recover and be better than ever.”
Candace Lovely, an established Hilton Head Island artist, also saw an opportunity using storm debris to help bring the community together.
It was on Pineland Road in Hilton Head Plantation that she decided to paint Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” on the ends of logs stacked on the right-of-way.
“Not only did he (Van Gogh) break his color, but he showed movement — they call that disturbance.” Lovely said. “Disturbance is the way the wind would go through the clouds and influence the sky and the stars. The hurricane was disturbance.”
There are also other ways to look at the painting, she said.
“Everyone loves ‘Starry Night,’” she said. “They don’t think of disturbance but a fun painting.”
Like Lovely, Victoria Luckenbill found a creative way to give back after returning to her destroyed Sea Pines home following Hurricane Matthew.
“It is structurally unstable to live in right now,” she said. “We had three trees go down on our house. They were all oak trees.”
While the house is unlivable, the garage remains usable — where Luckenbill has been spending her time crafting ornaments from the trees that fell on her home.
The ornaments call for unity with “HHI Strong” burnt into the oak chunks.
Luckenbill said 30 percent of the $20 purchase price for each ornament is being donated to The Deep Well Project, a Hilton Head Island nonprofit that has been helping individuals and businesses in the community since 1973.
“We are basically making the money for the supplies we use,” Luckenbill said. “Our main goal is to raise money for Deep Well.”
Michelle Spadafora, owner of Buona Terra Woodworks on Hilton Head Island, also felt the artistic call to help raise funds for Deep Well.
“I don’t feel normal going back to normal with the business,” Spadafora said. “I felt as though we need to go back to the community. It hit me to do a hurricane relief-fund tray.”
The $25 serving trays, stenciled with images of Hilton Head, are being sold with 30 percent of the sales donated to Deep Well, Spadafora said.