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Historic Broad Street celebrates the holidays

December 4, 2014

As the holidays approach, the Charleston Mercury once again highlights some of the cultural amenities available on historic Broad Street. This year a new art gallery and a jewelry shop have opened in the block between Church and Meeting streets. Each is exceptional in its own way.

After the Confederate Home completed renovations of its Broad Street façade, Cecilia Murray moved the Cecil Byrne Gallery into the historic building. The gallery is immediately west of Ella Walton Richardson Fine Art and Ann Long Fine Art galleries. Ms. Murray is a resident of Edisto Island and she draws much of her inspiration from her Lowcountry surroundings; Botany Bay on Edisto Island comprises more than 4,000 acres of pristine land filled with majestic live oaks, wildlife and meandering creeks bordered by marsh grasses that change their colors with the seasons.

 

Cecil Byrne Gallery beckons passersby to enter and enjoy the wonderful offerings on display. These include paintings done by leading impressionist artists; complimenting the collection are handcrafted furnishings. The gallery has featured Ms. Murray’s work and that of Ann Watcher, Liz Haywood Sullivan and Jeanne Rosier Smith. It also sells unique wooden tables made of salvaged wood from the farms and coastal areas that is fashioned by local artist Capers Cauthen. The final event this year will be Downtown and Down River, featuring contemporary cityscapes by the artist Desmond O’Hagan and landscapes by Alain Picard.

 

Across the street, Seyahan Jewelry at 57 Broad St. offers a carefully curated collection of fine silver jewelry handcrafted by skilled artisans from Anatolia. Most of their jewelry is made from silver threads intricately twisted into designs that have been passed down through countless generations. The shop offers a uniquely balanced mix of tradition and modernism. The owners encourage customers to mix traditional pieces with contemporary ones. Some of the jewelry has been tweaked to suit modern tastes that range from eclectic to minimalist.

 

Seyahan is owned by Laura Parker and Matthias Weimer, a charming German to whom she was introduced by her Turkish teacher. Laura knew little of Turkish culture before she went to Istanbul, but she was quickly captivated by the city’s opulent charms. Laura is from Millen, Georgia and the Turkish people reminded her of Southerners — very hospitable, friendly and gifted with an abundance of small talk.

 

When they met, Laura was interested in pursuing something in the fashion sector. Matthias wanted to have the most beautiful jewelry shop in Istanbul — a lofty ambition in a city with 10,000 jewelry stores — and he offered Laura a job. Now, they both speak Turkish with ease and are passionate about the country and its craftsmanship.

 

Laura joined Matthias five years ago and they sought out examples of craftsmanship sourced directly from the artisans themselves and managed quite well, eventually opening a second shop in Istanbul. They fell in love along the way and after a stint in Berlin, they eventually landed in Charleston and opened a store at 57 Broad St.

 

Be it in Istanbul, Berlin or Charleston, today Seyahan Jewelry offers striking Anatolian jewelry to their customers. For the Christmas season, Matthias went to Turkey and selected a shipment of tantalizing baubles for the discriminating shopper who is looking for something unusual. When you visit their shop, they will also offer you some delicious Turkish coffee made in the traditional fashion.

 

Matthias has found the cultural transition to a Charleston lifestyle relatively smooth. He appreciates the city’s rich heritage and its determination to preserve its beauty. He calls Charleston “exceptional.”

 

Others who love history will also be interested in the Confederate Home, which is one Charleston’s most impressive eleemosynary institutions. Built at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the building was once owned by Governor John Geddes (1777-1828), who acquired it by marrying two of the daughters of Gilbert Chalmers, a local artisan. An ambitious man, he entered politics in 1799 as a city warden. He went on to serve in the state legislature and was Speaker of the S.C. House of Representatives from 1810 to 1813. He served as intendent (mayor) of Charleston from 1817 to 1818 and went on to be elected to the state’s highest office in 1819.

 

When the city was honored by a visit by President James Monroe, Geddes entertained lavishly, bearing much of the expense himself. His hospitality seriously injured his personal fortune and 60-64 Broad Street was sold in 1825. Fortunately for his heirs, in 1831 the legislature appropriated $3,000 to cover those costs.

 

Governor Geddes was a controversial figure. During his administration, the state legislature passed laws banning free blacks from entering the state, requiring an act of the assembly to emancipate slaves and establishing fines for anyone distributing “inflammatory” writings in the state. Because of his political views, he and members of his family were involved in no less than four duels to protect his “honor.” His Broad Street home was later purchased by Angus Stewart who operated the Carolina Hotel, which was later operated by Archibald McKenzie. In 1867, McKenzie rented the building to Amarinthia Yates Snowden and her sister, Isabell S. Snowden, who had mortgaged their Church Street home to help finance the Confederate Home.

 

The Confederate Home and later the Confederate College, housed and educated impoverished young women during the desperate financial times after the war. The Confederate Home later acquired the federal court facilities in the rear of the property where Judge Andrew Magrath solemnly removed his judicial robes the day after Abraham Lincoln was elected president. The building has survived the earthquake of 1886 and has been undergoing renovations ever since. The mansard roof and fanciful dormers were constructed after the earthquake. Since then, 60-64 Broad St. has been divided into apartments that are available to retired women. Today some of them are used as offices and art studios, among them the Cecil Byrne Gallery.

 

A book about the Huguenot Church in Charleston is scheduled for release in early 2018. It includes an account of the Geddes-Simons duels and stories about how Unionist postmaster Alfred Huger confronted mob at gunpoint to protect the U.S. mail and another about one of the Confederate Homes most famous occupants, Chinese medical missionary Marie Ravenel. For more information, contact pegeastman@comcast.net.

 

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