Twenty minutes by boat, but a world away from Savannah, is Ossabaw Island. A few times a year, guests are welcomed to explore, research and become inspired on the 26,000-acre barrier island.
The Ossabaw Island Creative Retreat, July 30 through Aug. 1, offers artists a chance to get away from the mainland while enjoying a pristine, wild setting. Guests have the choice to bunk in a classic clubhouse, stay in a vintage cottage, or bring their own camping supplies and stay under the stars.
Artists of all kinds — musicians, writers, painters, photographers, composers — are encouraged to attend, as long as they bring anything they need with them. One thing they don’t need to worry about is making dinner. The cost of the retreat includes five fresh farm-to-table meals, as well as lodging and excursions.
Writer Jenny Hersch attended the retreat last spring to complete her final book edits. “The opportunity to spend several days intentionally sequestered on Ossabaw was exactly what I needed at that stage of writing,” she said. “Ossabaw Island offers an opportunity to slow your pace while being surrounded by natural beauty that is truly awe-inspiring. It's a seclusion that does not feel at all isolated. It fosters focus, and kindred spirits.”
“The retreat has no agenda or workshop sessions,” said Robin Gunn, project coordinator for the Ossabaw Island Foundation. Other than the Torrey-West home, which is still privately-owned, people are free to wander wherever they like.
“Small groups may decide to take a trip to the Boneyard Beach or Middle Place, but artists are encouraged to do whatever interests them.”
Once in private hands, Ossabaw Island is now owned by the state of Georgia and managed by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the ecological stewardship of the island. The creative retreat is hosted by the nonprofit Ossabaw Island Foundation, which fulfills its mission to be used for “natural, scientific and cultural study, research and education.”
Photographer Bryan Stovall has visited Ossabaw a number of times over the years and witnessed changes in the landscape.
“I first went to Ossabaw in 2006, to do photo work for a show … I was only aware of Ossabaw through photos, books, and newspaper articles I had read, but was fascinated by them all,” he said. “It is very unusual on the East Coast, as one of the few places that are somewhat accessible, but still largely deserted and protected. The retreat that I attended last year gave me a chance to get back to the island with a small group of like-minded people with many interests other than photography. … It was just a few days of relaxing, talking with new people, and time to walk on my own and gather new photographic material.”
Former owner Eleanor Torrey-West, now 106, no longer lives on the island but she used to host such artistic luminaries as Aaron Copland, Ralph Ellison and Margaret Atwood.
“This retreat encapsulates what the Ossabaw Island Project would have been like," Gunn said. "She wanted people to have unstructured time and engage with the environment. We are happy to be able to manifest that for our guests.”