THE COASTAL DISCOVERY MUSEUM OF HILTON HEAD ISLAND
On this enchanted island tucked in the Atlantic and surrounded by sprawling, rich coastal lowlands, there's a way of life that's very aware and appreciative of the crown jewel we've been given. We take good care of the sea turtles. We work to preserve and present the unique history of the land and its peoples throughout time.
We teach certain cultural ways of life from one generation to the next – or at least we make that effort. So, we may think we've marked the box on preservation and celebration of everything that goes into having become "America's #1 Island"* for several years running. The truth is there's so much more depth and story beneath a beautiful surface we've barely begun to scratch. The curators of the Coastal Discovery Museum take deeply to heart their part in that job and strive more each year to – figuratively and literally – churn the earth.
To Have and to Hold
“When I think of Hilton Head Island,” marvels the museum’s President and CEO Rex Garniewicz, “I think of its rich history, some of it buried under sand or obscured by the later growth of beautiful live oaks and their lush understory of palmettos and yaupon holly. We are still learning about times past in which South Carolina was a global crossroads. Most traces have vanished above the ground, but when we dig below the surface, we find amazing discoveries like a Ming Dynasty plate. It really makes you think differently about how this place really connected the New World and the Old World.” The museum has physical artifacts like this that you can hold in your hands and connect to the past.
“Our history here is traced in five-thousand-year-old shell rings built by Native people; the discovery of the island by Europeans in 1526 and the first Spanish capital of La Florida across the Port Royal Sound established in 1566. Later, there were English colonists growing indigo and cotton - and here at Honey Horn - enslaved Africans, brought here to labor in the fields for generations before experiencing freedom for the first time at Mitchelville. History continues here today in the resilience of Gullah Geechee people on this island and their art, including beautiful sweetgrass baskets sewn on our property.”
Inspired to Care
Listening to Garniewicz speak in any conversation off the cuff and from memory about any given subject in the Smithsonian-affiliated museum's interest and purview, you get a sense of the depth and variety of the work they do, from preservation to interpretation and hands-on education. This happens through the museum's expanding buildings, where objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited, and through the objects themselves, specimens and live animals the museum keeps for our community, providing content for all ages within their four pillars of concentration: Art, History, Culture, and Nature.
Coastal Discovery Museum strives to preserve and bring light to:
- Art: Currently on display is the museum's newest exhibition featuring beautiful works by artist Lisa Watson that explore the intersection between endangered plants and our built environment. As featured in Forbes Magazine, this installation of original work will be open through February 12, 2023. You can always find information on upcoming shows on the museum’s website, as there is a constant supply of new art to see whenever you visit.
- History: Few people know about the tens of thousands of artifacts the museum has excavated over the years. From stone spear points and shards of pottery through Civil War artifacts the museum is building a collection that will tell our story. “Not only was our property used to house troops in the Civil War,” Garniewicz shares, “we have discovered the location of a gun emplacement on our property and recently received a donated Civil War cannon which we hope to restore and display on our property.” Putting all these pieces of history together is the next stage of the museum’s growth.
- Culture: Located in the heart of such a culturally rich area with a thriving Gullah Geechee community, the museum is a place for locals and visitors to interact. It is the starting point for the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours, and many days Gullah artists, Michael and Dino will be on the property sewing sweetgrass baskets. They even teach a Saturday class where they share this artform with the next generation.
- Nature: The museum is perhaps best known for their work and contributions to the preservation of our fragile sea island ecology and all the living things that call this place home. Through classes for kids and presentations for adults this is where residents and visitors alike learn to love and live alongside nature. The museum truly does fulfill its mission to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry.
APPLEALING TO ALL WALKS OF LIFE
When asked about the most important new initiatives at the Coastal Discovery Museum, Garniewicz shares, "We are very excited to have our new museum-quality collection storage space under construction to preserve all the real objects that physically connect us with this past and bring it to life at the museum. Their protection is so important because we want them to be around another hundred years to tell our story, which is not only a local story, but also a very important part of American history."
Garniewicz is also looking to expand the museum staff. "With the support of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry we are also hiring a new history educator,” he says, adding, “We are poised to become a center for displaying and teaching our diverse history. In partnership with other organizations that manage historic properties like the Gullah Museum, Heritage Library, Hilton Head Land Trust, and Mitchelville, we want to put Hilton Head Island on the map as a place on par with Jamestown, Plymouth, or St. Augustine."
This year those efforts continue to expand, protecting the things we value most. Garniewicz posits: "We need your support on several fronts to preserve these fragments of history and bring their stories to light.
- Furnishing our collections storage space so we can properly house the thousands of artifacts excavated and collected across Hilton Head and throughout the Lowcountry.
- Conserving and restoring our precious artifacts – including our famous painting of William Hilton’s Adventure and newly donated artifacts like our civil war cannon.
- Establishing a collections acquisition fund which will allow us to collect historic artifacts related to the stories we tell as well as contemporary works by accomplished artists.
This year we hope to raise $150,000 in our annual appeal. Your support will help our future visitors remember, learn about and honor those who lived here hundreds and thousands of years ago."
Find What You Love
Every Coastal Discovery Museum experience leaves you with a new perspective, expanding the things we're able to learn, experience, and pass on for new generations to fall in love with and become stewards of, all because someone came before them, preserving and presenting the story with passion and purpose. It’s a place we support because they are doing something for all of us.
If you’re not already a member or supporter of the museum, plan a visit to their Honey Horn location and find that one thing that you love. You’re guaranteed to, in the museum's "something for everyone" design. Whatever your area of interest and source of inspiration, chances are as high as a King Tide that Coastal Discovery is preserving it – for you, for our community, and for generations to come.
To make a donation, visit coastaldiscovery.org/make-a-difference or call 843-689-6767 ext 224.