Departure Daufuskie Island Iron Fish Gallery
A metal fish sculpture hangs on our screened-in back porch, which has been closed for the winter months. However, I can still see it from our kitchen. The special fish is reminiscent of warmer days on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, and its hidden signature eye reminds me of the wonderful artist Chase Allen.
Last year, my January departure column featured the island, and you can still find the article online. Because art has a way of taking us places, this month, I am departing back to Daufuskie to feature one of the island artisans, Chase Allen of the Iron Fish Gallery.
During October, I was on the island for the second annual Literacy Throwdown and the release of resident author Roger Pickney’s novel Blow the Man Down. My little children’s books were proudly displayed alongside those of visiting New York Times bestselling authors Dorthea Benton Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, and Patti Callahan Henry. As I sat beside my friend Mary Alice, and met the other literary ladies, I was honored to be in the presence of such literary legends and talent on Daufuskie Island.
When I met Mary Alice’s friend and fellow bestselling author, Patti Callahan Henry, I learned more about her connection to Daufuskie, an island she references as “Oystertip” Island in her novels. Additionally, I discovered that she also knows, loves, and admires Chase Allen’s work.
In fact, the New York Times bestselling author was actually one of Allen’s first fish customers.
“She [Patti Callahan Henry] was one of the first people who purchased a fish from me,” said artist and Iron Fish Gallery owner Chase Allen. “When I first made these fish, I had two or three people that purchased these sculptures and really liked them as soon as I designed them… and that gave me the positive feedback that I was on the right track.”
Daufuskie Island is actually a creative muse for many, and talents abound on the island. So, while I was there, I sat down one-on-one with the young artist and creator of my special fish.
Artistry was in his genes, yet up until a little over 10 years ago, Allen had never truly pursued it. With a degree in marketing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, following college, Allen was hired by International Paper and actually worked in the marketing department on the Haig Point side of the island as an intern, which was followed by a brief stint as a real estate agent exclusively working for a developer. However, he was miserable, and this was not the ideal profession for an admitted outdoorsman.
“I love the outdoors, the fishing, the water, the marsh, and the seasons,” said Allen. “The [Daufuskie] lifestyle is really great, and the people are really diverse. It’s a good community.”
Around the same time, the September 11th disaster occurred.
“With September 11, 2001, I also had a friend pass away, and my mom got real sick,” explained Allen. “Three things happened real quickly and made me realize that tomorrow is not a guaranteed thing, and ‘retirement’ is not a basket I want to put my eggs in to, so why wait for it?”
This enlightened viewpoint was the needed push to inspire Allen to pursue another avenue and to live his dream.
“I literally cut every single tie, eventually even let my real estate license expire, and I never looked back,” explained Allen. “I started venturing outside of the gates [of Haig Point], and that’s how I fell in love with Daufuskie.”
Allen accredits his knowing and recognizing the need to change careers ultimately to divine intervention, everything correctly lining up, and to taking the ultimate “leap of faith.”
“I just feel so grateful,” said Allen. “I have had pressure for years to do other things to make more money and to chase the dream, and those pressures don’t just disappear because I’m on Daufuskie…”
Today, customers continually find his gallery either in person, down a dusty Daufuskie road on the historic side of the island, or online, and they remind Allen of how blessed he truly is to be doing what he enjoys and earning a living. His unique metal and artwork hang in residences, offices, and restaurants across the country and internationally, and his work has been featured in publications including Coastal Living, Southern Living, Deep Magazine, Hilton Head Monthly, and others.
The Iron Fish Gallery body of work includes everything from yard sculptures to huge fish, mermaids, blue crabs, and stingrays, and his most recent creations are actually framed pieces with additional cutouts for enhanced lighting. Allen explains that they are framed artwork by day and enhanced nightlights in the evenings.
Allen fondly remembers enjoying art electives in college—especially pottery, but the small island already had a pottery.
Several area artisans were actually inspirational to Allen, and during his brief time in real estate, all he longed for was to take visitors to the historic district of the island.
“When I started traveling and seeing various artisans, I just had so much admiration for them as people and their lifestyle choices…and it got in my bones,” said Allen. “I knew that I had to do something like that.”
Following a trip where he met a metal artist, Allen became exposed to welding as an art, and he was hooked. Fortunately, a mechanic on Haig Point taught Allen how to weld in early 2000, and his talent emerged.
“When I stuck two pieces of metal together, I just loved everything about it,” said Allen. “The smell of it, the sound of it, the fire, and the risk; I just thought that was so fun.”
Allen enrolled in technical course in Savannah, and his talent produced the pig for the island school auction.
“This was me testing the waters,” said Allen. “I put it in that auction with some brand new gardening gloves…and it sold for 50 bucks.”
Shortly after, the September 11 disaster occurred, and the real estate company left for Florida. However, Allen had no desire to go, and his new career was born.
Today, Allen’s home and backyard workshop operates out of one of the few available island Gullah shanty homes that he fixed up himself. In fact, island visitors can purchase their art selections directly off the porch on the honor system and slide their payment under his front door.
In addition to large mermaids, which take an entire sheet of metal purchased in Savannah and brought over by boat, and other nautical creations, 10 new fish designs are introduced each quarter, and examples from each collection hang in a garage behind the shop. These amazing creations are a long way from the pig that he made for the island school’s auction years ago.
Whether through a book, painting or sculpture, artists allow us a respite from our lives through their works, and their many talents provide that occasional rejuvenating departure.
For additional information about Chase Allen, and to glimpse the outstanding work of the Iron Fish Gallery or to order online, visit ironfishart.com. To learn more about mentioned authors’ work, visit Patti Callahan Henry at patticallahanhenry.com, Mary Alice Monroe at maryalicemonroe.com, Dorthea Benton Frank at dotfrank.com, Roger Pinckney at rogerpickney.com, and my books can be found at wordofmouthpress.us