October 25, 2023

The Oyster Art of Paula Deen

Discover Paula's Artwork Journey

Several years ago we published Shrimp, Collards and Grits magazine which became very popular across the entire Southeast. Much to our amazement it was in places like Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble. I think the most fun we had with it was visiting celebrities and writing their stories. But when Covid came along and no one would touch magazines or anything, we closed up shop and decided to concentrate exclusively on books. But the visit to Paula Deen's home on the river is worth telling you about. Rather than talk with her about food, we wanted to introduce you to another side of her - Paula Deen, the artist. The legendary SC writer, Tom Poland, came along to talk to her and write that story. He was one of our editors and a big Paula fan.

A Quite Place Just to Talk

I remember asking her where we should go to be quiet and just talk. Paula did not hesitate, "My bathroom, of course!" I thought that was strange but when we arrived down a long hallway, we entered a bathroom that featured a fireplace and a sitting area. Perfect. It was not what I was expecting, but it turned out to be quiet and comfortable. I was most fascinated by her closet which looked like something one might see at the dry cleaners. The racks all moved. Simply push a button and stop at the place where clothing was neatly hung according to color. Everything you might want to wear was all together in whatever color she may want to wear.

And we found out that day that Paula is a pretty darn good artist!

Paula’s Journey

When you see glistening oyster beds what comes to mind? An oyster roast? A mucky, perilous place? A driveway white with sun-bleached shells? Well, some folks see art. Here we have a beautiful bust, what could be a Roman gladiator wearing armor plate made of glorious shells or the Emperor of Tabby rising through oyster banks to claim his place in architecture.

There’s more to oysters than eating.

That’s why folks around Wilmington Island marshes might do a double-take. For when Earth’s orbit bestows autumn upon the land, Georgia marshes give up their green. The air chills a tad and winds ghost over marshes, rippling across golden spartina like billowing wheat fields. Winds whistle through gray rock-like clusters, and salt air quickens the pulse. Autumn. It’s an ideal time to seek bounty along the riverbeds, and a most recognizable woman ventures onto the razor-sharp shells. Bucket close by, she rakes and digs oysters, and she takes her licks.

“We left a trail of blood, honey. Oyster shells are so sharp, and they are not very sanitary. So, when you cut yourself you have to be very careful.”

Yes, very careful when you’re Paula Deen, and that’s one way Georgia oysters end up in her home. Their future? Aunt Margaret’s Fried Oysters? Oyster bisque? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever their fate, Paula’s hand-gathered shells won’t be recycled. Not at all. Over six weeks, she’ll use those ivory-gray shells to sculpt and bejewel a bust. “It’s like putting together a puzzle, getting all the shells to fit,” she said.

Let's Set the Table

We were so inspired by Paula's art that we decided to come back and set the table for her Thanksgiving dinner. I brought my favorite design team who spent the day make floral arrangements and designing the table with oyster art. Here's what we did.

We started with tropical leaf placemats to give a fresh look to the white beaded Bianca Italian dishes. Here they are beautifully displayed on tortoise shell chargers. Wooden pheasants add a fall tone to the decor.

A round cluster oyster ball sits on top of sea glass oyster plates, serving as a delightful favor for each guest to take home.

Lovely pale aqua Irish linen napkins provide accent color along with the Italian turquoise gold rimmed stem ware. Other glassware on the table includes gold rimmed antique Fostoria glassware.

Flatware is gold plated giving a formal look to the affair.

The oyster theme is carried throughout the table with individual oyster salt dishes, oyster garland swag, and a charming oyster candelabra created by Bluffton artist Nancy Colson. Floral arrangements of white hydrangea, white roses and green clover hydrangea set the tone.

What doe the Future Hold?

There is a lot more that Paula Deen wants to do. "I would love to be a voice in an animated movie, the voice of a Southern crab - a Southern crab! My grandchildren would all love that."

She also loves to paint and once painted a portrait of Earl D. Squirrel, a squirrel she became fascinated with. Well, those are just a few of the talents you may not have known about and I'm sure there are many more than we had time to talk about that day.