The Story Behind the Buccaneer Island Bird Statues
In the June 26, 2020 edition, the Ocean Reef Press featured an article titled “Stories Behind Ocean Reef Sculptures” where we asked Members to contact us with the history behind the bird statues on Buccaneer Island. Vicki Combs took this request a step further. Combined with her previous knowledge of the statues, Mrs. Combs reached out to the sculptor himself to share the following story with the Ocean Reef community.
As a constant Art League participant, I’ve had the privilege through the years of learning about much of the artwork and sculpture around The Reef. My husband’s family has enjoyed ORC for generations and our children, as many who grew up coming here, have been photographed with these whimsical bird bronzes for years.
The story begins with the late Herb and Patty Matthews, former Ocean Reef Members and artists in their own right. I met Patty Matthews in a Gregory Johnson sculpting class and eventually met Herb Matthews at the Art League and through various golf functions. Both were full of personality and brought big life to everything they touched. They also brought Walter Palmer, Key West artist and sculptor, to their Ocean Reef home for a show of his work around 2006. Paul Astbury was Club President at the time and became a fan of the artist. Buccaneer Island was being remodeled in the same year so Astbury commissioned Palmer to create bird sculptures to be incorporated into the new landscape décor. Astbury reflected, “I thought that the birds were perfect because they were whimsical and suited the new Buccaneer Island.” Palmer was invited to visit Ocean Reef in June 2006 to assess the Buccaneer Island design and landscape plan and returned to install the sculptures in December 2006.
“Time Out” is the statue of the mother and two small birds on piling located by the Buccaneer Island pools. “On the Same Page” is the bird reading on a concrete bench between the Islander and Palm Court. Located near the Beach Bar, the third statue, called “Here’s to Reefers,” is the semi-reclining bird holding a drink. These works were cast at Bronzart Foundry in Sarasota. The Palmers recall working with ORC’s Director of Engineering, George Richards, for installation.
In summary, the Walter Palmer family fondly recalls Ocean Reef, the Herb Matthews family, and the array of bronze birds that we all adore. Walter is still an active artist in an extremely artistic family. His wife, Karen, is also an artist along with their two sons and several other family members. Their son, Kevin, now runs a foundry in Ridgeland, SC. Walter’s work can be found in galleries in Big Pine Key. He lives in South Carolina and is famous throughout Hilton Head, with many pieces there and in numerous resorts and private collections around the country.
The whimsical birds resemble pelicans, but when asked what kind of bird, the artist said, “What kind of rabbit is the Easter Bunny?” He also calls his works “people cleverly disguised as birds.”
Member since 1993.