A Valentine’s Day Love Story

A new home with nothing on the walls is the perfect blank canvas for large format images in black and white. On Valentine’s Day 2020, when Craig gave his wife a simple valentine signed “Love, Craig” with a P.S. that only read “Brannings” neither Craig nor his wife, Michelle, had any idea what was about to take place.

Their two-story Lowcountry home, nestled amongst moss-draped ancient live oaks, sits on a bluff above the marshes of the Broad River with vistas looking across great expanses of marshland and the deep blue brackish waters of the mighty Broad River. Their home has a dreamy decadence that converges with true Lowcountry luxury.  

Craig and Michelle are newcomers to the area and were yet to learn of its mystery.  Stories were waiting to be discovered – centuries-old tales, some more recent, many from long ago. What took place in that great expanse of islands a short distance from their shore was revealed when they stepped into Branning Fine Art.

At once they noticed on the wall a Gullah oysterman, standing larger than life, a cluster of oysters in his hand that only moments ago had lived in the midst of a mudflat along the Broad River surrounded by clusters of other craggy oysters native to this region’s salt marshes. Surely secrets of these pristine waters rest within him, hidden to all others, places that yield the undiscovered jewels of the river.

“His name is Vince,” says Andrew. Knowing his name gave further meaning to the large black and white print carefully mounted in its black frame. This was a real person who in years past had many times left the shore in his wooden bateau, pushing off from the mudflats into distant channels. He traveled through streams and places only he and God understood.  He was one with the river, his boat, at home in himself and his way of life, and his endless search for hidden bounty along the shoreline.  

Vince embraced the waterman’s life and entrepreneurial hard work.

Oystermen often work alone with the only sound being that of cast-iron tongs crunching into oysters. They must work bent over for hours, take a few steps, lean down again reaching into the mudflats, not just for any oyster, but for the prize, as generations had done in the decades before them.

Michelle and Craig began to see the magic of the authentic Lowcountry, the people and places that largely go unnoticed to passersby. 

A cluster of shrimp boats docked in Village Creek out on St. Helena Island next captured their imagination. These are boats manned by men with pride who had watched their fathers and grandfathers go out into these same rivers; the Colleton, Combahee, the Broad, the Okatie and the Chechessee, to find those places known only to them.

Wars have been waged in those waters by shrimpers and crabbers in white boots – wars against the elements of nature.  Bitter winds blow strong at times, creating almost impossible conditions. Yet they head out anyway with waves crashing over their bows working to the rhythm of the tides.  Most are old now,  their sons and grandsons have long ago left these sea islands. If we don’t capture these images now, they may soon be gone forever. “Village Creek Shrimpers” hangs in Michelle and Craig’s dining room and attracts the eye immediately upon entering their home. It’s a “vision piece” that anchors one’s sense of place.  The viewer knows at once this home is in the heart of the Lowcountry.

Now their home tells the story of the Lowcountry with powerful visions words cannot totally convey.  

Vince now has a place of high honor at the base of their staircase that descends into the expansive living area of the home.  The perfectly framed and mounted portrait serves as a constant reminder of our region’s sacred heritage and honors the generations of others who faced bone-chilling winter mornings to harvest oysters along the mudflats across the river from their front porch.

And there’s one more thing. Ascend the staircase to the second floor where once again history greets us.  Looking upon the wall at the top of the stairs is a stunning portrait of the piece of driftwood, rugged and worn from countless years being washed by the tides. It sits solidly on the mudflats by the side of the house largely unnoticed to passersby.  A trail leads out from it into the river whose origins no one really knows. It’s a trail of mystery where one’s imagination can travel freely to its unknown destination.

Thank you for letting me share my story. Please come by and visit us in Beaufort, South Carolina at the village of Habersham. #habershammarketplace Habersham sc

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