Daufuskie Island, S.C., resident Chase Allen, who owns The Iron Fish Art Gallery, will be packing his bags for New York City this weekend after his gallery claimed the Audience Choice Award in the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Awards competition.
The annual competition honors makers, small-business owners and creative entrepreneurs in the fields of crafts, design, food and style from around the country. Only 10 winners were chosen from a pool of 800 finalists.
Allen is a self-taught artist who handcrafts aquatic themed metal sculptures including stingrays, mermaids and lobsters, and his gallery received more than 50,000 votes during the four-week online voting period.
“My initial reaction was excitement but mostly relief. We had a lot riding on this win, and we had a lot of good will behind the voting,” Allen said. He credits Daufuskie friends, neighbors, customers and faithful followers of his gallery’s Facebook page for his win.
“We had so many people voting the thought of letting them down was starting to get to me.”
As a winner Allen will receive a trip for two to New York where he will showcase his metal sculptures. A video of his work, produced by Martha Stewart’s team, will be featured in numerous national publications, including “Martha Stewart Living,” and he’ll receive a $10,000 prize.
Allen has been making his sculptures for 14 years, and it can take from an hour to a month to complete a single piece. For the first couple of years after he opened the gallery in 2001, Allen said he held two jobs on the side to earn a living, but since his customer demand and his confidence met eye-to-eye in 2003, he’s been on his own as a professional artist and hasn’t looked back.
“I have no formal artistic training. I chose to create my work on a very remote, rural, underdeveloped, underpopulated and relatively unknown island. From a text book point of view, I have positioned myself about as poorly as possible to become discovered or recognized,” Allen said.
“The odds are simply not in my favor, so this win is huge.”
Allen hopes his time in the national spotlight will help attract new customers.
“It’s very common for people to ask me what I do for a living after I explain I am a metal artist. I always giggle when I get this question, and I get it often,” he said.
“My hope is that this recognition points as much toward my talents as it does to my focus and perseverance as a professional artist. Perhaps now that I have won the American Made Audience Choice award I will get the question of, ‘Is that your only job?,’ a little bit less frequently.”
Allen said he will use most of the $10,000 prize to support the son of a friend, 5-year-old Holmes Desmelik who is battling a brain tumor. Allen credits the boy’s Facebook group, Holmes Team, for building voting buzz.
Whatever’s left of the prize money will be distributed between the Alzheimer’s Association, Ankylosing Spondylitis Association, Doctors Without Borders and a scholarship fund to John C. Campbell Folk School.
“It means the world to me to be in a position to donate 70 percent of the winnings to the Holmes Team. The Holmes Team brought lots of votes to the table, which put me in the winner’s circle,” Allen said.
“I look at this donation as a way to give back to them. This is a group win.”