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Art, family and oyster shells

The ladies and handcrafts of ‘Southern Tribute’

Last Christmas, Angela Inscoe was selling handmade oyster ornaments to friends. Oysters were prepared then painted, or fitted with paper prints; a hook held them on the tree. Her daughter, Melissa Dulaney, came over for holiday visits and saw the popularity of these intricately crafted pieces, each one unique. A lifelong artist herself, Melissa instantly felt a spark in her passion to design and create. She listened to this idea and spoke with her mother about building upon her project.

After thinking on it for a night, Melissa decided this chance was worth taking. Her drive to work passes a billboard every day with the advice — “don’t bury your talents.” And surely, if there were ever a reason to share your gifts, working alongside family is a good one. She called Lowe’s that day to ask about their wood availability and all licenses and paperwork for the business were filed in a month under the name “Southern Tribute.”

Melissa and Angela conceived their business around chinoiserie oyster pieces but they seek to expand their products to encompass all things Southern. The South, especially Charleston, has so much to offer in terms of its natural beauty, traditions and history. So why not draw creative art collections directly from what makes this place special? As its name suggests, Southern Tribute’s mission is “honoring the Southern spirit.”

The family lived in Charleston for a short time during the 1980s. Melissa spent her formative years here, going to school at Ashley Hall. She says, “Growing up here was magical to me,” and she recalls the smell of pluff mud, sailing lessons and cotillion class. When she was in the sixth grade, her father’s job moved them to Atlanta, Georgia, where they stayed for a long time.

But they always wanted to come back to Charleston and when Angela’s husband retired, they decided to make the move. She says “We truly had fallen in love with Charleston. It is home. We so enjoy being surrounded by water and just the sheer joy of the beauty of Mother Nature.”

Melissa decided to follow almost 14 years ago, when her son Charles reached the 2nd grade. She wanted him to have the same experiences she had growing up here. She says, “I wanted him to live near family and to be a Lowcountry gentleman. That’s what brought us back and neither one of us could be happier.”

The oysters go through quite a process to become pieces of art. Angela collects the oysters from a site on the islands where people dispose of used shells. Her husband (whom they call “Big Daddy”) plays a large role in cleaning and drying the shells, which entails stripping the mud and remains from the shell before rinsing them and drying them in the sun at their Mount Pleasant home. Finally, the shells are bleached and ready for ornamenting. While they are painted, inlaid or coated, the shells still retain their distinct character, each one different from the other. Their inner grooves and crevices are shaped by the first artist — nature.

Melissa hand-distresses the wood that holds many of the oysters. She also designs pieces like the Coastal Steel Magnolia and has planned more to come. The “steel magnolia,” of course, refers to the quintessential strong, stoic Southern woman. Such a symbol represents the beauty and fortitude instilled in women from the South — widely aspired to but uncommonly achieved.

Their newest Southern Luxe Collection features oysters hand cast in pewter and dipped in either silver or 24-karat gold.

Both women take pride in their heritage and the things that follow suit; children learn manners at a young age and are taught ballroom dancing before high school. It befits a place that values traditions — evident in our food, sporting culture, annual events, art and interactions. Moreover, we are surrounded, as Angela says, by “some of the nicest people in the world.”

Southern Tribute aims to honor what makes us proud. Charleston boasts a charming historic district next to the sea where inspiration abounds. Urban, maritime and pastoral settings converge upon a blossoming creative culture, where a historic tall ship sails silently just a few hundred yards from an art gallery. Melissa and Angela are looking forward to this new adventure drawn from ideas sourced just outside their back doors.

Their website, displays current offerings and there is much more to come. We look forward to seeing what creative works result from this passionate family operation in the months ahead.


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