When Lowcountry locals talk about pluff mud, they usually mean the soil found in the marshes and along the May River – dark, soft and so rich in nutrients from decomposed spartina grasses that farmers once literally plowed it into their fields.
These days, Pluff Mudd also refers to a gallery on Calhoun Street that houses a rich and eclectic collection of art on display and for sale.
When the Pluff Mudd Gallery first opened its doors, Bluffton was still one square mile with an infamous “State of Mind.” Now the community is a hub of artists, and the gallery with the piano on the porch is celebrating its 20th anniversary April 8, at the beginning of the Spring Fling Art Celebration.
Vickie Jourdan, who has been the gallery’s general manager for most of her membership, is its longest remaining member and knows the background.
“This was not an artistic community 20 years ago, but there was a group of artists (who) decided to find a venue to show artwork,” Jourdan said.
The artists approached Stephen Loper, the owner of the Old Mercantile Building on Calhoun Street. He and his family lived upstairs but he wanted to rent the downstairs.
“The group looked for a few other artists to get involved and start the gallery, because there were only about six or seven of us,” she said.
A few years later, the gallery was able to take possession of its current location at 27 Calhoun St. and was able to expand the number and types of artists they were able to include.
“The Mercantile was conducive to a certain number of two-dimensional artists because with the wall space, we always have hung salon style, which means floor to ceiling. We also had room for a few 3-D artists, but when we moved over here, we were able to accommodate more artists,” said Jourdan.
The gallery now shows the works of 15 partners and five consignment artists; nine create two-dimensional art and the rest are 3-D artists. The artist partners have specific responsibilities, and not every artist who applies for a rare opening gets accepted.
“We get a lot of inquiries about wanting to be here,” Jourdan said. “Artists are judged in, they have to be voted in by the 15 partners, so it’s not like we accept just any artist. They have to have something a little different.”
Once they are voted in, each member artist must work the gallery two days a month.
Also, Jourdan said, “they have to have the type of personality that can deal with the customer. But it’s worked out just wonderfully. I’ve seen over 60 artists come and go through the gallery over 20 years.”
One of the artists whose paintings reflect her location thought she was retired when she moved here from Minneapolis in 2016.
“I was asked to join in 2018,” said Nancy Carney. “I’ve been in other galleries, and I’ve owned a gallery, so I thought ‘all right.’ It has been beyond my wildest dream. First of all, I think the quality of Pluff and the art in general in this whole area is fabulous. One thing I think we do really well at Pluff is that we keep our diversity. I hear it from everybody who comes in – ‘you have such variety, and it’s so good.’”
Jourdan started in interior design but began painting about 25 years ago. She’s changed from collages to creating large-scale abstracts as she listens to music by such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Barry White.
Alyce Faye Jarrett, the newest member of the gallery, was selling her wire sculptures at the Bluffton Arts and Seafood Festival when she was asked if she would be interested in joining. Other current partner members are Carolyn Alderman, Judy Blahut, Peggy Carvell, Margaret Crawford, John Crum, Cheryl Eppolito, Kelly Lukey, Colette Oliver, Jim Renauer, Blake Shattuck, Donna Varner and Doug West. Consignment artists are Linda Patalive, Patti Seldes, Hee-June Shin, Gini Steele and Sheryl Winn.
Gallery artists use mixed media to portray Lowcountry marsh scenes; photograph wildlife; create stained glass wonders; paint architectural details; mold clay into trays, mugs and plates with alligators, sea turtles and lighthouses; turn wood into beautiful cutting boards and bowls; hand-stain silk scarves; design jewelry; and make clocks.
“That’s why I say this gallery has a lot of variety,” Jourdan said. “Right now, we have a great group of artists, everybody is very helpful and involved. That’s why this 20th anniversary party is going to be so much fun.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.