In a sunny clearing among the thick shade of Daufuskie Island, SC, the old white cottage with bright blue windows would catch anyone's attention. But it's the fish, turtles, mermaids and stingrays swimming over the house and across the wide porch's railings that make you want to stop your golf cart on the dusty road and explore.
Iron Fish is the workshop, office and gallery of Chase Allen, an artisan whose whimsical metal creatures have won awards, been featured in national publications and taken him around the country. But it's Daufuskie, this remote, largely undeveloped, bridge-less Sea Island off the coast of Hilton Head that is the inspiration for his work. It's also the place that he has called home since 2001.
Iron Fish, in the shady historic district of the island, is open to all visitors. You're welcome any day to wander the wrap-around porch covered with his metalwork creations. If he's there, Allen is happy to answer questions and chat about his artwork. If he's not, and you'd like to buy something to bring home, just leave a check. Forgot your checkbook? Then just leave a note, and he'll call you for your credit card number. He says he’s never once had a problem with this system.
Allen first arrived on Daufuskie as a young man in 1999, commuting from the mainland every day to work in marketing for one of the golf developments. But something about the island made him quickly realize that his heart was somewhere else. He wanted to create art that would reflect the beauty of Daufuskie as it was. He spent his lunch hours learning to weld from some of the mechanics at the golf course and began making his creations. Two years later, he pulled the ripcord. He quit his corporate job, moved to the island and maxed out all his credit cards to buy the equipment he'd need.
Allen doesn't just draw inspiration from the island and the water surrounding it. He also wants to honor it. Like Daufuskie, his work is "rustic, imperfect. It isn't smoothed over," he explains. That's where its beauty comes from. He hopes that people can see the beauty in Daufuskie as it is now, too, and in its rich history.
While you're there, make sure you take a few minutes to appreciate the massive live oak in the yard shading the house. You can even go for a ride on the swing in the heavy air. Somehow, that seems like another way to honor this remarkable island.
Iron Fish Gallery is located at 168 Benjies Point Road, Daufuskie Island, SC. When you get to the island, just look for wooden signs on trees pointing the way. If you can't make it to Daufuskie just yet, take a look at Allen's website: www.ironfishart.com.