Craft on the Coastline

Craft on the Coastline

Georgia’s Golden Isles feature a lively and growing community of makers to go along with the sunshine and waves.

Craft on the Coastline

Georgia’s Golden Isles feature a lively and growing community of makers to go along with the sunshine and waves.
June/July 2018 issue of American Craft magazine
St. Simons Lighthouse

Famous for scenic backdrops such as spacious beaches and the postcard-ready St. Simons Lighthouse, the Golden Isles draw visitors from all over. The region also features craft talent visible in everything from town festivals to the handmade napkins at Georgia Sea Grill.

On the first Friday of the month, Newcastle Street – the main drag of downtown Brunswick, Georgia – is filled with life. Residents of this coastal town and locals from nearby islands crowd the streets to the sounds of live music. Shops stay open late, offering wine and hors d'oeuvres to draw customers. Other merchants sell their wares in pop-up shops and at eateries. Along the street, letterpress maven Sarah Pittenger, founder of Lady Hanover Press, pushes a mint-green upcycled cart, complete with handmade tassels, to sell her cards and prints.

It was the event’s charm that made Pittenger and her husband fall in love with the area and relocate from Colorado. “We happened to visit during a First Friday,” she says. “It was so festive and walkable. We knew right away this town was the right fit for us.”

The charming city, which dates to the colonial period, is part of the Golden Isles, a coastal area about halfway between Savannah, Georgia, and Jacksonville, Florida. The town of Darien lies to the north, and to the east are a string of breathtaking isles: St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island, and Jekyll Island, a getaway for Gilded Age figures such as J.P. Morgan and Joseph Pulitzer. (Two private islands, Sea Island and St. Catherines Island, are nearby.)

“I’ve lived a lot of places, but I’ve never seen nature like here,” says Jenny Van’t Land, a local embroidery artist. “We have the Spanish moss trees and the ferns, palm trees mixed in with pine trees in the forest, the marsh, and the ocean. I think that draws a lot of artistic types.”

The reasonable cost of living adds to the appeal. Pittenger and her husband found a Victorian house on one of the squares in Brunswick (the downtown is modeled after Savannah’s famous squares) that provided plenty of room for an art studio, something Pittenger had always wanted.

The affordability of the area allowed Jennifer Zamudio to open her brick-and-mortar shop Dot and Army after six years of selling her handmade napkins and “un-paper” towels online. Her business has since expanded to feature various Georgia makers.

It is this atmosphere of mutual and growing support that many residents credit for the thriving craft scene in the Golden Isles. First Fridays are just the beginning; twice a year, Van’t Land’s Moxie Craft Fest takes over Newcastle Street. The purpose of the festival, now three years old, is to promote everyone’s work and bring the community together. “I saw so many beautiful, extremely talented people, but there was not a market geared toward that crowd,” Van’t Land says of her inspiration to get the festival off the ground. “I couldn’t shake the idea of starting one.”

The Golden Isles also have plenty of hands-on opportunities to learn a craft. On St. Simons Island, Glynn Visual Arts offers classes in pottery, fiber, jewelry, and glass. Darien’s Ashantilly Center, the former home of environmentalist William Haynes Jr., features Ashantilly Press, with classes in letterpress printing, which Haynes himself practiced. “We draw people from all over the country,” says project manager Sara Blocker, noting that visitors enjoy the center’s Scotch whisky tastings and annual ice cream-churning contests.

Ceramist Elizabeth Halderson, who grew up on St. Catherines Island, knows the charms of her region perhaps better than anyone. “My work is almost all inspired by the flora and fauna of the Golden Isles and this coastline,” she says. Beyond its inspiring natural surroundings, the region’s commitment to building connections between makers and the public sets it apart. “The local events are important because people are there who wouldn’t necessarily go to galleries,” Halderson notes. “While they’re out and about, they’re seeing the products being made in the Golden Isles and going to these art openings. And that’s a good thing.”

If You Go

Brunswick and Darien
On the western mainland of the Golden Isles lies Brunswick, with Darien to the north. Planning a trip during the Moxie Craft Fest, held in the fall and spring, is a good way to get an overview of the area’s craft scene. Or visit on a First Friday to check out the shops, including Dot and Army, the gallery of art collective Brunswick Stewdio, and the Market on Newcastle, a gift shop that celebrates coastal Georgia. Stop by the Ashantilly Center in Darien, where you can take a letterpress class.

St. Simons Island
The seaside charm of St. Simons Island should not be missed. “Tree Spirits” carved by Keith Jennings appear on trunks and branches, and on the second Saturday of the month, the Market at Sea Island features work by local makers such as ceramist Elizabeth Halderson, cards from Lady Hanover Press, and yoga bags and pouches by Barbara Kindle. (This is not to be confused with the Market on St. Simons Island, sister shop to the Market on Newcastle.) Get in touch with your inner artist at the Glynn Visual Arts Center, which offers classes in a variety of mediums. You can’t leave the Golden Isles without sampling the seafood; the elegant Georgia Sea Grill features napkin rings from Dot and Army, and, for special events, Jennifer Zamudio’s handmade napkins.

Jekyll Island
Nature fans will fall in love with Jekyll Island. It has more than 20 miles of bike trails, access to both forests and beaches, and the opportunity to ride horses along the shore. For the craft enthusiast, Gypsea Glass is a must-visit, where you can attend a glassblowing demonstration and tour the attached gallery.