Arts & Culture

Hilton Head art exhibit at the Coastal Discovery Museum is a Palmer family affair

Addison Palmer and Barbara Palmer in the gallery at the Coastal Discovery Museum.
Addison Palmer and Barbara Palmer in the gallery at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Submitted photo

I recently I drove to Honey Horn on HIlton Head to meet up with members of the Palmer family of artists. We were gathering to discuss a collection of the artwork of eight family members in the exhibit, “Generations,” now showing in the gallery of the Coastal Discovery Museum. The exhibit will run through Feb. 25.

I arrived to a whirl of activity. Palmer family members were absorbed in finalizing the placement and installation of the remaining paintings, sketches, and memorabilia which will make up the exhibit.

Addison Palmer invited me into a corner of the gallery space, and Jim Palmer, his father, and Barbara, his mother, joined us as we talked about the exhibit.

“You know we had an exhibit of our work years and years ago, at the Arts Center,” said Barbara, “It was unusual to actually carry that off. And, by the way, so much has changed over those intervening years.”

The family clearly takes its work very seriously, but enjoys a lighter touch when it comes to recollections of childhood, early years in and around coastal areas in Georgia, North and South Carolina and Florida, and their relationships with friends, family, and professional associates.

I asked Jim to tell me something I didn’t know about him. I reminded him that we had both changed a little since I first met him around 1986, when my husband and I purchased one of his landscapes. He began to talk about his passion for golf, and the famous people he has come to know as a result, including President Eisenhower, the late N.Y. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Arnold Palmer.

Jim’s early days were spent in Columbia, where he attended the University of South Carolina before he moved on to the Atlanta School of Art. It was in 1965 that he, now married to his wife, Barbara, arrived on Hilton Head Island. They have been active in the local art community since.

The exhibit at Honey Horn is special because the Palmers actually lived there for a time.

“The unique part of this exhibition is sharing many of the family’s stories from the past five decades,” said Natalie Hefter, the museums’s vice president of programs.

Jim’s art is included in national, international, private, corporate and public collections. Among the collectors are former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Eisenhower, former South Carolina governor Robert McNair, and singer John Denver.

When I asked Barbara what people might not know about her, she said she was the organizer, the fixer, the administrative artist, the fact-and-detail person who kept careful track of all things artistic related to the Palmer family.

Addison explained that many who appreciate his work as an artist may not know about his involvement in distance running. From his earliest days, he explained, he loved to run and, happily shared that love of running with his sister Elise. It is important to note that Elise has work in the exhibit, and what’s more, Elise’s daughter, Emily, who lives in New York, also has work in the family exhibit.

Addison explained that when he was 12 or 13, one of his paintings was sold at an Evening of the Arts event.

“That was a kind of the official start, for me,” he said. “So here I am.”

He does commission work, shows and exhibits, creates work for specific galleries, and teaches art classes.

“Though I do landscapes, seascapes, wildlife and portraits, “ he said, “ I continue to focus on my paintings of birds. Birds are just always there.”

In 2018, he was invited to show one of his paintings in the internationally renowned exhibit “Birds in Art.” Only ninety artists from around the world, were invited to participate in the 43rd annual exhibition at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wasau, Wis. Addison lives officially in North Carolina, but he has projects on St Simons as well as on Hilton Head Island.

“All roads still lead here,” he said of Hilton Head Island.

Walter Palmer, Jim’s brother, is renowned as a sculptor and known for his iconic bird sculptures, which he calls “people cleverly disguised as birds.”

For more than 45 years, Walter has been commissioned to create his flights of fancy for luxury hotels, commercial sites, and a long list of private collectors here and abroad.

After he graduated from Atlanta College of Art, he divided his time between Hilton Head Island and the Florida Keys.

His sculptures “People Birds at Honey Horn”can been seen at The Westin resort, Belfair Plaza, and Van der Meer Tennis Center. He is currently focused on a project in St Mary’s, Ga., where he has been commissioned to create ”Owls on Osborne,” the placement of small bronze owls in key areas of interest around the town.

Karen Palmer, Walter’s wife, will have her watercolors in the family exhibit. The artwork of Wally Palmer and Kevin Palmer, Walter’s sons, will also be included in the exhibit.

Wally is particularly known in Bluffton as a sculptor of sea creatures and is a dedicated creator of mosaics.

The Palmer family exhibition juxtaposes incredible stories of a vibrant, art filled with the past and positioned against a setting of natural beauty.

“Not only is each member of the Palmer Family a talent in their own right, but they also nurture and support each other and our community as a whole.” Hilton Head Island artist LouAnne La Roche said.

If you go

What: “Generations,” an exhibit of art by eight members of the Palmer family.

Where: The Coastal Discovery Museum, 70 Honey Horn Lane, Hilton Head, through Feb. 25.

Extra: A celebratory reception honoring the Palmer Family is from 5 to 7 p.m. Jan. 17. For more information, call 843-689-6767 or visit