by Gretchen Stringer-Robinson
As you drive across the Folly River Bridge (a/k/a the Lee Westbury Bridge) onto Folly Beach, look to your left and you’ll see the Karen Stringer Recreational Pier, located in the Folly River Park. Not too many people have a dock named after them, and Karen Stringer was just the person who should have one!
Karen was a self-taught artist who generally worked in oils. Her paintings ran from landscapes to whimsy, and incorporated her love for all things Folly.
Born on Folly on September 18, 1948, Karen embodied the artist: she travelled to Spain with her first husband, lived in Atlanta, and even travelled cross-country (twice), living for a while in Washington State, in an ashram. Prior to that, she worked with children in the Four-H Club and also lived in Estill where she practiced pottery and sculpture.
Karen came home from Washington when her Dad, Lester E. Stringer, became ill. He passed in 1989 and Karen stopped her foot-loose life. She focused on her art, as well as family, friends, and festivals. She was a constant on Folly in her colorful outfits. She was known for her hats. Folly’s Sea and Sand Festival was started by her; she ran the Tides of March and various other festivals. In 2005, she and Andie Weathers started the Islands Art Gallery, an art gallery in the Island Plaza Shopping Center. They featured artists from the Folly Art Guild as well as well-known Charleston artists.
Speaking of the Art Guild, Karen started the Folly Beach Arts and Crafts Guild, building it from the ground up. Today it hosts members specializing in fine art, jewelry, pottery, writing, leather crafting and more.
Unfortunately for us, Karen passed away on May 9, 2008, leaving behind a stunned husband, siblings, in-laws, nieces, and nephews. Her husband, Jim Watson, passed away a year later.
Karen won several awards for her art, and loved sharing her art with everyone. She was especially supportive of young artists, and always had time for them. She taught art for a time at the Folly Beach Civic Center, emphasizing the fun of art.
The dock was inaugurated on October 7, 2010, as a result of the hard work of Wallace Benson. He and Karen forged a strong friendship and Wallace understood her deep connection with Folly Beach. If you get a chance, walk out on the dock and breathe in the salt air. Think of art. Karen would like that.
Gretchen Stringer is our History Correspondent and an Adjunct History Instructor at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College and Central Carolina.