Culture // 5 min Read

An Artist of the Trees

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Oct 13, 2017

When Wayne Edwards was 10 or 11 years old, he built his first treehouse. It was in an old oak tree in his backyard, the backdrop for childhood adventures and memories for many. Piecing together bits of pine, bark, and other scraps he found on the ground, he created something that would have made Peter Pan and the Lost Boys very proud: a bona fide treehouse. It was a dream house for a young boy—a place to hide, a place to explore, a place to play.

Fast-forward to the present, and he’s still doing the same thing. Except now he gets paid for it.

“At the time I thought, ‘this is a lot of fun, must be somehow I can make a living out of it,’ and it worked out that way several years later,” chuckled Edwards.

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Edwards has made a name for himself as a champion of fine arts in many forms. From sculpture to paintings to a bit of everything in between, Edwards explores all media to pursue his passion for art. He has completed numerous large-scale sculpture and painting installations (he’s currently working on a 2,000-square-foot mural in an open-air marketplace in Belize), but the creations he’s most well-known for, however, are the forms of art that he started when he was just a young boy: treehouses.

Despite viewing himself first and foremost as an artist, Edwards began his professional career creating commercial signs for real estate developers. He created signage for communities and developments, and through this work he met Charles Fraser, one of the founding developers of Hilton Head Island. After learning the breadth of his talents, Fraser asked Edwards to build a treehouse for Harbor Town to anchor the community to nature. And, of course, Edwards said yes.

Located amid the branches of a sprawling live oak, the treehouse at Harbor Town became a signature focal point for the community, giving the development a unique stamp as well as a destination for tourists. Edwards constructed the treehouse using local wood, rope, and a thatch roof to make it appear as though the treehouse was just an extension of the tree.

“And from there, it just sort of blossomed—every resort developer wanted a treehouse for their community,” Edwards said. “I’ve been very fortunate in that it’s sold itself, and I’m very thankful for that as I’m not much of a salesman and never aspired to be.”

His Harbor Town treehouse received a lot of attention from both the community and the media—he was delighted to see the treehouse on a magazine cover one day and on postcards the next. Edwards began building treehouses across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Central America, erecting between 40 and 50 to date.

And, lucky for us, he built two treehouses in Palmetto Bluff, too.

The first structure built in Palmetto Bluff as we know it today, the treehouse at Moreland Landing is an iconic piece of the Bluff that has inspired throngs of residents and guests to seek out the six-story treehouse since its construction in 2004. Built into a towering live oak on the banks of Cauley’s Creek, the Moreland Landing treehouse captures the adventure and magic of the Lowcountry, practically begging you to climb from story to story when you see it. And the best part? The 360-degree view of the surrounding marshes, woods, and rivers that converge at this uber-scenic spot once you reach the top.

“I try to do the things that people will like. I like to entertain people and to give them a little relief from daily life,” Edwards said. “If I can bring some fun into people’s lives and spark their imagination, that’s my inspiration.”

According to Edwards, he tried to make the Moreland treehouse look as though it were built by people who were stranded there and had to build it with what they found on the ground, evidenced by the pine and straw materials used in its construction. He also incorporated thatching and bamboo into the structure, using materials he knew would weather well and blend into the landscape.

“I don’t do a lot of specific design in advance because the trees kind of dictate what’s going to happen,” Edwards said of his design process. “The trees will design it for you if you let it happen.”

In fact, usually the only preparation Edwards does in terms of design is a simple pen-and-ink sketch to show the clients what he has in mind for the overall structure and what materials he intends to use. Despite his unconventional design planning, his clientele is ever-growing—he has designed and built treehouses all over the world, putting his signature Peter Pan mark on each one.

And much like Peter Pan, his treehouses never seem to grow up, either. Edwards recalls building a treehouse in Central America over 20 years ago using nothing but natural materials he foraged himself, and the treehouse still stands today. He built the treehouse for a family who lives deep in the jungle, providing them with opportunities they never had before. They began renting out the treehouse for tourists to stay in—the ultimate hideaway—and now visitors have to book years in advance to stay in the little haven.

“Basically, I see myself as an entertainer,” Edwards said. “I don’t do it with a guitar or a voice or any other type of standard entertainment. I do it with my designs and construction, and I think it’s just as valuable.”

Edwards also works in more traditional art forms too, producing several notable collections of paintings and sculptures. He was the visionary behind the vast bird sculpture that stands at the entrance of the River Road and Barge Landing neighborhoods in the Bluff. Using petrified driftwood he gathered from the May River, he spent four months sifting through different pieces of wood to assemble the sculpture, which towers several feet in the air. Edwards also designed and built the treehouse that overlooks the inland waterway across from RT’s Market in Wilson Village, another example of his ingenuity and ability to create something extraordinary out of very little. The treehouse is three stories high, with several porches and even a small zip line. Another retreat perfect for Peter Pan.

Out of these three considerable projects, however, what Edwards remembers most about his work at the Bluff is the people. Because Jim Mozley, an original member of the Palmetto Bluff development team, was a longtime friend of Edwards’s, each project Edwards brought to life he did with the commitment and fervor one would put forth for a close friend. And it paid off. One of Edwards’s fondest memories of his work at Palmetto Bluff was a quote from Mozley after he completed the Moreland Landing treehouse. “Jim said, ‘I just spent however many millions of dollars building that village up there, and all anyone wants to talk about is this treehouse!’” Edwards laughed. “And I love that everybody is still talking about it.”

And here we are, more than 13 years later, still talking about it.

By: Anna Jones

Photos by: Allen Kennedy & Joel Dinkle%GALLERY%

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