Friday, September 27 – Sunday, September 29
by Melissa LaScaleia
This is the 44th year that the annual Atalaya Arts and Crafts Festival has graced our coastal communities at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet.
The festival will consist of over one hundred artists displaying their crafts for sale and for view in a variety of mediums: jewelry set with precious gem stones, paintings in any medium like oil and watercolor, sketches, photography, sculpture, woodwork, metal work, fabric arts, and more.
The artists and their works will be on display to the public for the duration of the festival, Friday, September 27, through Sunday, September 29, throughout Atalaya— a partly open-aired, castle-like structure overlooking the ocean, which was the winter home of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington.
Atalaya is an historic home and an architectural delight. It was built as a giant rectangle; the outer periphery contains individual rooms that surround a series of interior courtyards. Each room showcases one or two artists’ works, and the interior courtyards contain many more.
In the early 1900s, when the Huntingtons were considering purchasing the property, they first arrived to view it via the Waccamaw River, as the land was only accessible by boat.
They built Atalaya in the 1930s during the great depression, and used all local craftsmen for the construction of the house. Atalaya was the initial reason why electric lines were run so far south in Myrtle Beach.
“They brought employment at a time when there was none, and electricity when there was none,” says Brenda Magers. “But their reach was much greater than just the people they employed. It really was a life line to this community. They brought art, industry and education to this area, and enriched the culture.”
Brenda is the park manager at Huntington Beach, and is responsible for managing the festival operations each year, a task she’s been doing since 2006.
“The park service originally decided to host the arts and crafts festival in keeping with the tradition the Huntingtons had established of creating a difference in the community,” she says.
Both Huntington’s were passionate patrons of the arts. Anna was a sculptor, and used to keep live animals at Atalaya which she would use as models to study and sculpt. Much of her work is shown at Brookgreen Gardens, another of their properties.
Today, Atalaya is owned by Brookgreen Gardens, but maintained by the South Carolina State Park Service. The Huntingtons did not have any children, and upon their deaths, they bequeathed their property to the Brookgreen Foundation.
“The festival began as a tribute to Anna, so that this castle could come to life with art work again,” Brenda says.
The festival is a juried festival, which means that the artists who would like to show must apply to do so; their work is then judged by a blind panel, and only the top scoring artists are admitted.
Gwen Davenport works for the SC Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for all forty-seven South Carolina State Parks. She handles all of the marketing for the festival, which she’s been doing for the past five years. Managing the jury process, and coordinating the artist side of the festival, falls under her yearly jurisdiction as well.
“I coordinate the selection of the artists, as well as tending to artists’ needs during the festival,” Gwen says. “This is definitely my favorite festival in the park service— it’s a great time. People of all ages come. My favorite part is seeing the festival when it comes together, and everybody is enjoying it and artists are happy and making good sales.”
Around 200 artists apply for a spot at the Atalaya Festival yearly. The application process begins around February, and artists have several months to complete their submissions for review. Once all of the applications are received, a panel of jurors reviews photographs of the artists’ work, and give the art a ranking. The top scorers from each discipline are invited to attend the festival.
All of the jurors are qualified as judges— some jurors are artists themselves, but all have an art background and are experts in a certain discipline. The judging process is kept strictly blind and confidential, so that the artists’ works that are viewed and ultimately admitted are unknown to the judges.
Artists come from all over the country to showcase at the Atalaya Festival. There are many local artists as well.
“It’s truly high-end, quality art that you will see here,” Gwen says. “There is a great variety— both for viewing and for purchase— all in one place.”
About 6000 – 7000 people come out to attend the festival depending on the weather, as it’s a largely open-air event. The entire courtyard is open to the sky, so each artist brings their own tent. There is live music all weekend long, featuring local bands of a more beach and blue-grass vibe, and food vendors selling ice cream and kettle corn, as well as heartier fare.
“We have a fantastic variety of good, local food, and good, local music,” Gwen says.
The admission ticket is free all weekend long, so patrons can return again and again— and have time to consider any large ticket purchases.
“We encourage people to come early in the weekend,” Gwen says. “That way if they see a piece of art and are unsure of the measurements or the placing in their home, they can go home and consider it and come back the next day to buy it. Either way, we want you to come out and enjoy the whole weekend with us.
“As the years and decades roll on, the festival has developed a following, and it’s an established event that everyone knows will feature exceptional art.”