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Ossabaw on my Mind

June 8, 2011

The 1975 documentary on Grey Gardens and the HBO film in 2009 exploring this property in East Hampton, New York (once owned by mother and daughter, both named Edith Beale) are excellent. If you have a moment, the New York Times photos here are stunning and haunting at the same time, as is the Washington Post piece here. Earlier this year, Atlanta Magazine featured an incredible article on Ossabaw Island, the second largest island off the coast of Georgia in the barrier chain, the Golden Isles, and from the first word on the page about its sole property owner, ninety-eight-year-old Sandy West, it reminded me of Grey Gardens. You can read the full article here about West’s family selling the island to the state in 1978.

The string of land surrounded by water along the Atlantic shoreline is part of the reason I was intrigued to move to Atlanta in the first place. The notion that I, a landlocked girl from Kansas could live within a four to five hour proximity of the ocean is baffling. But, it’s true, and there are a dozen islands off the Southeastern part of the state, several with which you are probably familiar—Jekyll (frequented in the early 1920s by the Carnegie and Pulitzers as a winter retreat from Manhattan), Cumberland (John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette wedding), Tybee (numerous movies shot here), St. Simons (its famed first lighthouse has served as a beacon since 1807) and Sea Island (30th G8 Summit in 2004).

I’ve gotten to about a third of them and they all are special in their own way, but the one I want to visit next for certain is Ossabaw. Back in the 60s, West ran the island as the Ossabaw Island Project, an artists’ residency to rival the prestigious Yaddo in New York. There is something drawing me to want to work and write there, even if just for a week. It’s uninhabited mostly, barring West and those on her estate, and you can only get there by private boat and they’d like it to remain that way, preserved and rustic. My twin sister and I have been chatting for a while now about a joint artists’ residency with her sculpture and my writing to see what we can create, so perhaps this is the spot where we’re supposed to be? I do know there’s something drawing me there and I’m listening to that and hoping the untarnished image in my mind matches what I’ll discover.