Southeastern Wildlife Exposition celebrates wildlife, art and conservation
By Daria Smith
Kicking off festival season in the Lowcountry, the 42nd annual Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) returns to Charleston on February 16-18 ‘luring’ visitors from all over to celebrate wildlife, art and conservation—an annual reunion for those who have a love for the outdoors.
"SEWE is the culmination of passion and hard work from artists, exhibitors, conservationists, families, employees, performers and the list goes on,” said Meagan Trotta, marketing and sales director at SEWE. “It’s the shared love for the outdoors across all of these groups that makes SEWE much more than a yearly exposition, but an everlasting brand."
SEWE launched in 1983 with 5,000 attendees. Three men from Columbia, SC affiliated with Ducks Unlimited sought to spin a Southeastern take on Maryland’s Waterfowl Festival. Now the exposition is eight times its original size and hosts over 40,000 guests annually.
Events take place at five major exhibits downtown: The Charleston Place, Brittlebank Park, Gaillard Center, Charleston Marriott and Marion Square. Returning staples include the SEWE Fine Art Gallery, Dock Dogs, Center for Birds of Prey demonstrations, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary live shows, Orvis fly fishing demonstrations, curated artisan goods and craftsmen exhibitors, chef demos and canine demonstrations from herding and retrieving breeds.
Jeff Corwin, wildlife biologist and conservationist, returns to the Gaillard Center for live demonstrations with exotic animals—you may know him from Animal Planet and The Discovery Channel. The public can also encounter South Carolina’s native endangered horse breed, the Marsh Tacky, at Brittlebank Park during the event.
This year’s featured painting is entitled Family Outing by Kathleen Dunphy, a Northern-California based artist. Dunphy notes the honor as “one of the highlights of my career.” Family Outing features a peaceful scene of a Canada geese family over a placid lake, exemplifying changing seasons and warmer weather as they migrate north in their distinctive ‘V’ formation.
View the piece on display before the exposition kicks off at Gallery by SEWE, inside the Shops at Charleston Place—a new, brick-and-mortar extension of the annual Charleston event. Family Outing will be auctioned off at the SEWE VIP Gala and Sale on February 15.
The Purina Pro Plan Performance Dog Team returns to the Marion Square arena with Disc Dog Demonstrations. Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network and National Marine Mammal Foundation will host educational demonstrations and advocate for the wellness and conservation of marine life in the Lowcountry. Visit the SEWE Marketplace, located inside the Gaillard Center, to meet exhibitors and collect pieces you won’t find anywhere else. Discover unique finds, from handcrafted goods and artisan creations to sporting apparel and outdoor gear.
Purchase additional tickets to special events for a more intimate experience, all inclusive of food and drinks. The Lowcountry Social, an oyster roast and barbeque feast set to the tune of bluegrass, returns this year. The Birds of a Feather Ladies Benefit Brunch benefits the Center for Birds of Prey.
New this year, Lowcountry Lyrics offers an intimate writers' round at a private waterfront home on Shem Creek. Opt-in for a moonlit evening of live music, storytelling and camaraderie.
Wyoming-born singer/songwriter Ian Munsick is kicking off the weekend with a live performance at the Gaillard Center on Thursday, February 15. On Friday evening, the South Carolina Waterfowl Association will host its annual Sportsman’s Ball with a wild game feast, auctions and raffles.
At its core, SEWE is family-friendly and has something for everyone. Kids 10 and under are free—they’ll love the petting zoo at Brittlebank. General admission passes grant access to all SEWE venues and shows and demonstrations. A three-day ticket is $85. A day pass on Saturday or Sunday costs $40 and a Sunday pass is $35. VIP packages start at $300. Tickets are available online at sewe.com. View the full schedule of events at www.sewe.com.
Notable brands and tastemakers during this year’s Southeastern Wildlife Exposition
Cacky Rivers, Wildlife Photographer
As a descendant of legendary sporting writer Archibald Rutledge and daughter of Thomas Rivers, an accomplished outdoorsman, a passion for the outdoors runs in Cacky Rivers' blood. Her father greatly impacted her love of wildlife, nature and birds, sparking her career as a wildlife photographer.
Rivers is honored to be a part of SEWE and grew up attending the event, recalling watching the dogs and roasting oysters. “Now I'm in it and I'm a part of it," said Rivers. "That's the cool part. I'm on the other side of it—not just as a spectator.”
She appreciates that wildlife gets brought to the people.
“Every artist that participates in SEWE has their way of showing people what they can bring to the table, whether it be decoys, art, knives, belt buckles or maps," remarked Rivers.
For Rivers, SEWE is a family event. She'll be stationed at the Gaillard alongside her friends, Capers Cauthen with Landrum tables and Tom Mauldin with Hook N Hide Belts, showcasing her latest photography book, Born and Raised.
In 2007, Ben Ross handcrafted turkey feather bow ties for his wedding and gifted to his groomsman, Jeff Plotner. In the beginning, it wasn’t a money-making venture, just something special that symbolized Ross’s relationships. Brackish incorporates the outdoors creatively and respectfully, showcasing the unique beauty of nature in feather bow ties and jewelry.
SEWE bestowed Brackish with an authentic platform to expand organically.
“We were a young four-person company back in February 2013 still trying to find our way," said Jeff Plotner, Brackish co-founder. "The response from SEWE-goers and our first-ever event was tremendous. It gave us a lot of our sales and confidence moving forward.”
For the past four years, Brackish has designed an exclusive SEWE collection, available for a limited time online and at the festival. This year, they're excited to showcase belts and new women’s silhouettes at the Gaillard and partner with Ducks Unlimited for a dinner.
“When I think of SEWE, I think of the culture of Charleston,” said Plotner. “It encapsulates the community and brings in a lot of people from outside the community to experience Charleston in a very special way.”
Free Fly Apparel
“What's so fun about SEWE is being a local brand that was built here in Charleston," said Scott Smith, head of brand marketing at Free Fly Apparel. "SEWE comes around every year and it's something that we circle on our calendar. It's an encompassing experience of bringing the community of Charleston together around the outdoors.”
Conservation has been ingrained in Free Fly's heartbeat from the beginning, as they create ultra-soft bamboo performance gear. “We spend a lot of time, both mentally and physically, thinking about how we can be a part of a community and specifically how we can help protect what we love to do—which is adventure and building relationships through outdoor exploration, particularly on the water," stated Smith.
Free Fly's annual sample sale helps fund habitat restoration and research for the sea turtle community in Charleston's Barrier Islands. Their Barrier Island camo pattern is developed using the shapes of the Charleston Harbor Barrier Islands, tying the brand back to its home waters and the local community. Shop Free Fly apparel at Brittlebank Park right around the corner from Dock Dogs.
Blade and Bow Whiskey
“When you get out of the field or off the river, there’s a memorable moment where you stop and have a cocktail,” shared Jeff Parrott, Blade and Bow brand cultivator. This is how Blade and Bow connects with the sporting community.
Blade and Bow’s roots link it back to the iconic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville that's been around since 1935. The keys that hang on the front door of Stitzel-Weller symbolize the five stages of making bourbon and represent hospitality—a ritual of SEWE and sporting life.
“The coolest thing about SEWE is seeing what new things people are doing in the sporting world with evolution and technology," said Parrott. Blade and Bow looks forward to connecting with partners every year including Ball and Buck, Orvis, Turtlebox and Tom Beckbe.
Sip on Blade and Bow whiskey around town Wednesday-Sunday at retail pop-ups and cocktail hours, including Rivers & Glen Trading Co., M. Dumas & Sons and Garden & Gun’s Cocktails and Conservation events.