Marci Tressel came to Hilton Head Island with her family on vacation from Ohio and never left.
That was 1971. All she had was a transistor radio, a thumb for transportation and a suitcase full of vacation clothes. She got a job at the Calibogue Cafe in Harbour Town, told her parents she wasn't going back, and rented a trailer on South Forest Beach Drive for $35 a month.
Today, Tressel is a professional artist. Her photograph of a baby sea turtle swimming into the ocean -- called "New Beginnings" -- found a buyer at Wednesday night's Fall Show opening of the Artists of Sea Pines.
Her story might not be exactly what Sea Pines founder Charles E. Fraser had in mind when he longed for his development to be an artists' colony. But it would have to be close.
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Fraser did see national-caliber artists like Coby Whitmore and Joe Bowler move to Sea Pines.
He might not have expected to see the whole Lowcountry turn into an artists' colony. One could go to a art show opening every night, or so it seems. And many of artists, including Tressel, are owners or partners in galleries, the likes of which have turned Bluffton's Calhoun Street into a destination.
In Beaufort County, we make Marines, memories, and art.
The Artists of Sea Pines -- herded by the energetic Rosemary Kimball -- has grown to 55 artists since forming in April with 35. Among those showing works at the gallery in the Community Services Associates headquarters are retired art teacher Barbara Snow, who captured a bateau in Broad Creek made by "Mr. Moses;" retired middle school math teacher Polly Cronin, whose watercolor of a yawning tiger is called "Sleepy Time;" and John Norlander, retired head of a major hotel chain, whose bright oil painting takes us to Portofino. Among the 42 pieces on exhibit, Carroll Williams has an assemblage, Kathy Tortorella gives "Marilyn's Hydrangea" a special glow, and Jo Wayne has a humorous acrylic of two birds titled "Are You Right Wing or Left Wing?"
The artists seem to thrive on being freed from former careers, and the lessons and nurturing they get from each other. And then there's the scenery in their own back yards: sand dunes, sea turtles, mergansers, shrimp boats, spinnakers, magnolias, shacks, sunrises and marsh islands.
They champion causes -- maybe helping women in Nepal, or natural conservation at home. Ten percent of this group's sales go to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve Foundation. The artists constantly supply works to charitable events and organizations.
Each landed in the Lowcountry in a different way, for a different reason, but the common thread is beauty.
"We value the beauty here," said Tressel, who walks on the beach every day at dawn. She finds beauty, like a hundred tiny turtles headed to the sea, that sparks the soul.
"Artists are very valuable to this area," Tressel said, "and this area is very valuable to us."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.