The oyster has long been a culinary and economic staple in the Lowcountry.
And soon, it will be a work of art as well — a very big one.
The "Shell Art Trail," an upcoming project by the Lowcountry Oyster Trail, will debut this fall in Bluffton. It's a scavenger hunt-like cultural exhibit and will feature 30, 4-foot-tall fiberglass oyster shell sculptures, according to a news release.
"They're just like a canvas, really," said Larry Hughes, founder of the Lowcountry Oyster Trail, of the big versions of the mollusks visitors will find all over the town beginning this fall. "You can't help but smile when you see them."
Artists will paint the giant oysters and have been asked to concentrate on themes of culture, history, ecology and conservation, Hughes said.
Hughes said bringing the Shell Art Trail into the mix was a "two-headed approach:"
First, the group wanted to build something fun and interesting
Second, they wanted to promote the importance of the local marine ecosystem.
There is an oyster trail in Virginia, and one in the Mobile Bay area of Alabama, Hughes said. But the Lowcountry trail, which spreads from Charleston into the Georgia barrier islands, might just have an edge. Bluffton, he said, has a growing colony of artists to make the sculptures special.
A town-wide unveiling of the trail will take place in October, Ellen Linnemann of SmartMarketing Communications wrote in an email. The launch will coincide with the Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival.
Local businesses can sponsor a shell, she said.
"The whole idea is to bring a smile to people's faces," Hughes said. "At the same time, we want to provide some traffic — a way for businesses to gain exposure, as well as Bluffton, as a kind of fun, eclectic place to be."
Shell Art Trail visitors will be guided by a digital map and a physical "trail passport" book in which to collect stamps. Stamps are awarded for finding the big oysters, Hughes said.
If you collect all the stamps, Hughes said, you might just get a free oyster trail T-shirt. Details of the stamp-collecting program are still being worked out, Hughes said.
Shells are expected to be delivered in late August. Residents and businesses can fill out forms to participate in the trail, and the deadline is July 16.
It's a "treasure trail that the young and the young at heart can follow," he said.