In September 2011, Charleston architect April Magill assembled a crew to build an outdoor oven in Cross, S.C., a town on the west shore of Lake Moultrie. Working with sand, plaster, cinder blocks, and clay, the team returned several times over the course of the following months until they had put the finishing touches on their creation, which they hoped could become a community meeting place. They finished the job in November, only to realize there was a problem: The oven might have been built on someone else's property.
Carlie Towne, the minister of information for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, had planned to make the oven a part of a Gullah/Geechee International Camp Meeting Center on two acres of land she had bought in Cross. But as it turned out, the piece of land that she chose for the oven actually belonged to her neighbor, Connie Shuler. There was some debate over this, but Magill says it was finally settled about a month ago when Shuler got a surveyor to show Towne where the property line actually lies. Towne has since taken down the protective roof over the oven, leaving it exposed to the elements, and Magill says they will likely recycle the materials from the oven soon.
"There's not a good ending to that story," Magill says. The clay oven building process was an exercise in an old-fashioned design style known as permaculture that emphasizes building structures that use natural materials and conform with local ecology. But just as the Cross oven was on the outs, another was in the works in Awendaw.
Magill and a team of about 35 volunteers wrapped up construction of a second clay oven on the property of the Sewee Outpost on May 26 using local clay, salvaged cinder blocks, and wood and roofing metal donated by Buck Lumber and the Sustainable Warehouse. The Outpost, a general store on Highway 17, is the site of the Awendaw Green Barn Jam, a weekly Wednesday-night music event that founder and dentist Eddie White describes as "a big ol' puddle of musical love." White calls the completed oven "absolutely beautiful," with an inlaid design of a guitar on its front made from pottery shards. "We don't make a big deal out of anything we do because of the somewhat community nature of it, but we'll be using the oven a good little bit, I'm sure, and people who live onsite will be using it," White says.
On Wednesday night, Magill will be at the Barn Jam serving up a first batch of pizzas from the oven, and White plans to continue selling pizzas from the oven at future Barn Jams.