Danie Connolly has been a snowbird for many years, shuttling between New England and Florida homes for decades. When COVID-19 clipped her wings a bit, she decided to fight back the only way she knows how, amping up her creative juices to outplay the bummer vibes of the pandemic.
The long-time artist got together with photographer friend Robby Dean to bring her snowbird persona to life.
“I scoured the internet for every possible bird mask I could find, and when those started rolling in, I started amassing the feathers to match,” said the newly minted Bluffton resident and owner of the Absolutely Perfect repurposing store in The Promenade. “Then it was just a matter of finding the widest variety of settings we could find to show off the birds.”
Connolly put together her vast network of friends made over five decades and seven different restaurants and catering businesses owned, photographing willing volunteers up and down the East Coast wearing the snowbird masks and feathers while going about everyday life.
The results of her and Dean’s photoshoots will be on display along with a variety of snowbird installations in a snowbird exhibit at Absolutely Perfect beginning this month.
The photos include a wild menagerie from a fire department crew and a snowbird float, both taken in Kennebunkport, Maine, to various dining and leisure poses taken in locales from Boston to Clearwater, Fla.
From older married couples to students to toddlers, when folks saw the bird masks, they instantly became curious and, soon after, part of the exhibit.
“Birds are shy, and I think a lot of us started getting cooped up and our moods went down with this COVID stuff, so this was the perfect way to have a little socially distanced fun, and folks just ate it up,” Connolly said. “It melds my sense of humor and creativity, and the lunacy of it all just connected with people at a time when I think folks especially needed a good laugh in their lives.”
Businesses, hotels and museums all offered up their spaces for shoots. Connolly staged parties where revelers wore the masks and were captured digitally by Dean, including one shoot at the infamous Oddities and Antiques museum in Clearwater – where the duo repurposed a 1950s morgue gurney into a table and prop for one snowbird shoot.
There were pigeons, eagles, owls, pelicans, toucans and flamingos. And then there are plenty of species Connolly hasn’t quite identified yet – if the mask had a beak, the pair found the right setting and costume to match.
Connolly and Dean’s work has drawn interest from the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., which houses the striking and bizarre masterpieces of the iconic artist. The Dali has inquired about an exhibit of their own and a coffee table book project. But first, Connolly is premiering the exhibit in her new hometown, and even convinced Dean to move up a couple states and be her business cohort.
Connolly says the store, which aims to “make old stuff cool again,” is a smorgasbord of creativity encompassing the many passions of her five decades of creativity and collecting. Absolutely Perfect will offer antiques, china, linens, furniture, artwork and unique collectibles that Connolly has stored in a multitude of storage units through the years. The store opened Dec. 1 and fittingly was decked out with ready-to-buy Christmas décor. Connolly introduced herself to Bluffton by painting a mural that hung in the store’s window celebrating the 50 years of the Bluffton Christmas Parade.
“It was an impromptu thing, much like most of the things I’ve purchased through the years for this store,” Connolly said. “I want to show folks that everything has a next chapter, that nothing is secondhand. It’s just waiting for its next purpose.”
The store itself is a fitting space, full of nooks and crannies to showcase different themes of goodies waiting for their next home.
Connolly has no idea yet just how well she fits in with the Bluffton vibe, but a glance around her store brings the idea of eccentricity to life. From a chair with a Connolly-painted gator on the seatback (“the lawyers in Florida couldn’t get enough of these”) to the wrought-iron chandeliers and candlesticks accenting a pair of beautifully reupholstered sofas – with snowbirds worked into every crevice in between – early patrons see Absolutely Perfect as a quirkily perfect fit for Old Town.
Connolly will also share her other passions, as she plans to hold regular painting, cooking, upholstery and charcuterie classes to pass her accumulated knowledge on to a new generation.
But make no mistake, to start the New Year, the snowbirds will be the star of the show at the store.
“We will constantly be switching things up, offering new creative visuals here. I have five or six more storage units to get rid of,” she said with a smile, though she’s not kidding. “My retired doctor husband came here to take in the scenery as he sits and watches TV. Me, I’m here to run this business and to share my collecting with folks at the store until every last piece is cleared out.”
Will customers get to wear one of the bird masks on display?
“Anything is possible. This exhibit is ongoing, there are still plenty of photos left to take and moments to capture,” Connolly said.
One thing she’ll commit to in stone: Snowbirds still need to fly.
“Oh, I’ll be out of here in August – the heat and the bugs aren’t for me,” she said. “There will be no no-see-um exhibit here. I will never celebrate those buggers.”
Tm Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at email@example.com.