Arts and seafood: Bluffton festival a treat for the palette - and the palate

The Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival reflects the town in which its held. It has a certain state of mind.

The weeklong festival connects visitors with the elements that make Bluffton what it is -- the river, the seafood, and, especially, the quirkiness of its arts scene.

Among the quaint galleries of old town Bluffton will be the street fest next weekend. A juried art show brings in more than 90 artists from 10 different states. The majority are out-of-towners, but the organizing committee selects them with an eye for variety.

The offerings include a wide range of art from watercolor to pottery to photography, but also includes some Bluffton-esque uniqueness -- carved gourds, ships in bottles, stone art and sweetgrass baskets.

"We try to mix it up," said Mary O'Neill, a coordinator of the event.

Many of the artists are returning from years past, such as Archie Smith, who has been making hand-crafted instruments since the mid-70s.

Smith's specialty are dulcimers and psalteries, a stringed instrument that dates back to ancient Greece.

The history professor always had a fascination with the instruments after seeing a friend make one, not just for the music they produce but for the potential for intricate artistry. He exclusively makes the instruments in his retirement in rural North Carolina.

"The first time I saw them I just absolutely fell in love with the instruments," he said.

This will be his second arts and seafood festival.

"It's just so quaint down there," he said. "And the seafood is excellent."

Danita Cole will be coming from Charleston for the festival the first time. She works in encaustic painting, a style that involves manipulating heated beeswax.

The Brit started painting with encaustics in early '90s while living in the south of England. The cottage she lived in was on the lay lines of a 12th century church. A monk that came to visit taught her the technique.

She now lives on a sailboat, and her art focuses mostly on sealife.

"My whole world is water," she said. "I never had another medium that captures the translucent feeling of the water."

She's hoping the ocean scenes can connect at the waterside festival.

"I've heard a lot of good things," she said about the festival. "All my local artist friends have been telling me I should be a part of the festival."