You don't see much art on Morrison Drive between downtown and North Charleston. But this story is about discovering art in unusual places, and Ahern's Anvil (www.ahernsanvil.com) metalworking shop on Brigade Street is a perfect example.
The founder of this outfit is Sean Ahern, a native of Charleston who went to France after college and came back as something almost nobody else comes back as — a blacksmith. Since then, he's defined custom iron working in Charleston.
"I ask clients to describe what they have in mind, and then I draw it," says Ahern. "This helps both of us understand what we're trying to do."
And what does he do when the summer heat in his workshop reaches the breaking point? He thinks about the finished piece, he says, something he's designed 100 percent.
"And I think about a happy client."
Encountering art doesn't always happen on city sidewalks or inside a gallery's walls. Sometimes you can be online, checking out Beastie Boys' songs, when all of a sudden the magic of Search Engine Optimization leads you from Mike D's house to Vera's Crafty Blog (vhanna26.typepad.com/verascraftyblog).
Vera's Crafty Blog, with the tagline, "She's crafty. And she's just my type," flashes the indomitable work of Vera Hannaford, a woman who's been busting out funky knitted socks and shawls since she was a child. She grew up in New York City and was dazzled by the old women who knitted while riding the subway.
"So I decided to get a needle and thread and teach myself," she says.
Hannaford moved to Charleston in 1999. She started her blog to "chronicle the life of knitting. To show my knitting and crochet projects online.
"And to connect with the knitting community."
Henry Miller described an art salon as "the engagement of painters, musicians, writers ... mucking and sucking that sweet fruit, the only thing we really cared about was how the others tasted our genius."
A very different kind of drama played out recently at the home of Nathan Koci and Ron Wiltrout, members of the New Music Collective (www.newmusiccollective.org), and hosts of their very own Charleston-based salon. Koci and Wiltrout were interested in an easy-going affair where the ensemble performs for each other and not for an audience.
"We're letting our creative sides meld with our social sides," Koci says. "Performing for your peers is a daunting and rewarding experience."
The next salon is scheduled for September.
"And we're hoping performing in the midst of food and booze diminishes the daunting part as much as possible," Koci says.
Into the wood
Michael Moran doesn't knock on wood for luck; he does it for a living.
Being surrounded by woodworking his entire life, and with an apprenticeship under local woodworker Kirk Heidenreich in hand, Moran decided to establish Moran's Woodworked Furniture (www.michaeljamesmoran.com) in 2004.
"A great reward is building a piece that is functional, and also representative of the tree that it came from," Moran says. "I usually have a long relationship with the wood that I use. Clients can see it before I start, and they can check on it as I go, which allows me to share my trade."
Like most artists, Moran uses a simple, reliable process.
"I put my blood, sweat, and tears into it," says Moran.
No wonder the work seems so alive.
The renegade days of piercing — those days when your sister and her friends pierced their own belly buttons in your parents' basement — are behind us.
Now, piercing has become socially acceptable. In some groups, they are even considered — gasp! — an art form.
For Laura Davis, owner of the Museum of Living Arts (www.myspace.com/themuseumoflivingarts), such acceptance was the reason to turn her skills into a business and her business into a way of life.
"For too long piercing had a negative stigma, especially in South Carolina," Davis says. "But these days, even facial piercing is accepted."
The Museum of Living Arts offers piercing, blotter art, organic body jewelry, and other accessories. The real challenge is succeeding in a business that some may feel still isn't considered appropriate for Charleston.
"Piercing is like motorcycles," Davis explains. "Fifty years ago, only outlaws rode motorcycles. Now you see all types of people on them."
The trappings of Charleston's market are unmistakable: the carriages, the palmetto rose kids, the crowds, the spine of a cruise ship rolling across the horizon.
And the buskers, like Richard Blakeney.
He's the founder of Organic Opera, a grassroots education program for kids. He's a broad-shouldered opera singer whose tenor rises above the din of traffic.
He's been making people notice him since 2004. Often surrounded by a crescent ring of tourists, Blakeney has roused interest among Charleston locals.
"Usually I speed right past the market," says a man in a business suit one recent morning. "But when I see that he's singing, I stop for a moment to listen.
"His 'Ave Maria' is as good as I've heard."
Blakeney finishes, clutches a golden cross draped across his chest, and smiles.
Graffiti artists usually work alone, at night, under the cover of darkness.
But last year, Douglas Panzone (a.k.a the Sheepman) broke form when he was commissioned to spray a mural on the new St. Philip's Street parking garage. People watched him work in daylight. Police shuffled by without pause.
Panzone unites two worlds in one potent act of public creativity. His painting, "The Boxer," is one of several murals behind Buffalo South on James Island. The mural shows the body of a boxer with the head of a malnourished child. The background is part city and part nature.
"I don't always know what I'm doing," Panzone says. "But other times I have a clear idea. 'The Boxer' is good and evil. It's based on juxtapositions that present darker ideas in a poetic way. It illustrates a unity of opposites.
"I like stuff like that."
My friend used to wear a T-shirt that said, "Don't read over my shoulder," whenever we went to a coffee shop. Why? Because the coffee shop we went to was pretentious, and by extension we were pretentious, and to offset this pretension, my friend wore a T-shirt expressing his disgust with it all.
City Lights Coffee has no pretension. Its weekly musical act, the Amazing Mittens, are an old-time ukulele band. They play Wednesday nights to a rowdy bunch tapping their toes and bouncing in their seats. The Mittens, comprising Noodle McDoodle and Eden Fonvielle, are also part of the V-Tones (www.myspace.com/thevtonesofcharleston), a jazzy and swinging band that regularly performs in coffee shops and bars around town.
Be sure to check them out. Just leave your pretentious T-shirts at home.
Marty and Julie Klaper were supposed to retire in Charleston so they could concentrate on art.
So much for planning.
Marty took a new job, and Julie noticed that their North Charleston gallery, Artistic Spirit (www.artisticspiritgallery.com), located at the Old Navy Yard, was generating a buzz.
"We now have about 20-25 artists," Julie says. "As long term collectors, Marty and I are inspired by the honesty and integrity of visionary art."
What makes art visionary?
"These artists need to create," Klaper says. "Maybe to heal, for personal reasons, or for no reason. The most important thing is the creativity, not selling the art."
Now that's artistic spirit.
David Porter is a ringer. No, really. He's the tower captain of Grace Episcopal Church on Wentworth Street (www.gracechurchcharleston.org). He oversees the ringing of the bells. Up the stairs and through a doorway, Porter's colleagues stand in a circle, holding ropes that rise into the steeple.
When they pull the ropes, the bells peal across the treetops.
"It's about a sense of rhythm," Porter says. "We're not playing tunes. They are sequences equally spaced out, so that we can hear the bells individually."
The Grace Church's playing is called England Change Ringing, a style that allows each bell to ring on its own before it is met by the ringing of the next bell.
"This style is pervasive in England," Porter says. "But there are barely 50 in the U.S. Of those 50, four are in Charleston."
Art and Reading
For Frances Richardson, everyone has a place at the library.
As the public relations manager of Charleston Public Library, she believes libraries will always be an essential component in the artistic life of communities everywhere.
"The library is an outlet for a variety of art work, not just books," she says. "We offer diverse exhibits anyone can see.
"And it's always free."