Sculptor Tom Holmes is no longer the starving artist that he was 25 years ago early in his career. He was recently handed a $30,000 check from the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry for his majestic, award-winning, 19-foot-high, 2,000-pound, 16-finned sculpture called "Setting Sun."
Holmes was gracious and deeply honored to be deemed the best of the best of 20 artists who made the final cut in a public art competition two years ago by the Community Fundation.
His steel masterpiece now resides, temporarily, front and center on the 68-acre Honey Horn property of the Coastal Discovery Museum, until it moves to its permanent home at Coligny Park.
A regal dedication ceremony was held Oct. 26 at Honey Horn.
"It's a real honor to be in the Hilton Head collection," the Pennsylvania-based Holmes said. His masterpiece joins the collection of eight other sculptures strategically located around the island for the public's enjoyment.
"The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry has been incredibly generous," he said. "They have treated me the best out of any community organization that I have worked with publically...
"They have great stipends, which are incredibly important to artists," he said. "You can't function without it. To be a working artist is a privilege, and you can't do it without people like this."
In 2015, the Foundation hosted a worldwide talent search for artists whose work reflected the Hilton Head lifestyle. Twenty of them were awarded cash stipends for their works, which were on display at Honey Horn for three months.
An anonymous jury composed of local artists and collectors chose the 20, and another jury appointed Holmes' work for the top honor among the first-round prizewinners.
"They select a piece that they feel represents Hilton Head Island," said Michael Marks, former president and CEO of the Coastal Discovery Museum and current chair of the foundation's public art advisory committee. "The committee purchases the piece, and we donate it to the Town of Hilton Head for their public collection.
"Public art is part of the maturation process of this town, because people like towns and spaces that have art, it's proven," Marks said. "They may not always agree with it, but it's memorable and it might create a conversation. It might create a debate."
Local residents, no doubt, are familiar with the striking sculpture "Charles E. Fraser" and his friendly alligator at Compass Rose Park on Pope Avenue.
Other public art pieces in the town's donation portfolio since 2006, valued from $12,000 to $127,000, are:
"Family," at Chaplin Linear Park
"Sail Around," U.S. 278 and Arrow Road
"Sail," Hilton Head Regional Airport
"Poppies," Veteran's Memorial Park
"Carocol," Shelter Cove Community Park
"THEB," Stoney area, U.S. 278
"Sandy Roads," by local artist Mark Larkin, to be installed at Coligny Beach Park
All of these pieces, and more to come in the future, "can have a very profound effect on people," Holmes said. "I think public arts are so incredibly important that people gather funds, create foundations and invest in their community."
"We want to continue to build the collection of public art for the island," said advocate Marks. "We want it to be memorable, high-quality art to create conversation ... to build on the quality of life here."
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.