The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition returns to Charleston Feb. 15-17 to showcase the work of an international collection of 120 painters, carvers and sculptors.

SEWE, now in its 31st year, represents the unofficial start of Charleston’s tourism season and is expected to once again flood downtown venues with tens of thousands of visitors and residents.

The nation’s largest wildlife art and nature event features not only world-class art but also live-animal shows, Birds of prey demonstrations, a crowd-pleasing DockDogs competition and multiple satellite exhibitions of fine sporting firearms and classic waterfowl decoys.

This year’s expo will be spread out in venues throughout downtown Charleston, and features a shift of some events out of Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, which is undergoing renovations, into Charleston Music Hall at 37 John St.

The lion’s share of artists will continue to exhibit at the Charleston Place Hotel, which will again host the SEWE gala and other special events.

This year’s featured artists are painter Jay Kemp and sculptor Pete Zaluzec.

“With artistic mastery far beyond his years, Jay Kemp’s work is highly sought after by art connoisseurs for its perfection of detail, exquisite coloration and unique style that juxtaposes illusion and emotion with super realism,” SEWE officials said in a press release. “… An avid outdoorsman, Kemp paints subjects he knows best and enjoys most – wildlife, nature and the outdoors.”

“I strive to capture those images that pass quickly in our lives, leaving a fleeting yet memorable impression,” Kemp said.

Among several other best of shows and excellence awards, Kemp was chosen as an “artist to watch” by U.S. Art Magazine and won the Nature Works art show’s “Award of Excellence.”

Zaluzec, the featured sculptor, received his fine arts degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and, in 1986, began carving highly detailed lifelike birds. He won multiple awards for that work, including “Best in World” for an unprecedented three consecutive years in decorative miniature wood carving from the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art’s World Championship Carving Competition.

His work has been selected nine times for the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum’s “Birds in Art,” and he has a piece in their permanent collection.

New this year to SEWE is the addition of wildlife expert Julie Scardina of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens.

Scardina, a frequent guest on NBC’s “Today” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” will host educational live-animal presentations at the Charleston Music Hall. SEWE attendees will get an up-close look at alligators, bobcats, foxes, birds of prey, snakes and more. Scardina and Busch Wildlife will give four shows together (two on Feb. 15 and two on Feb. 16), while Busch will have two solo shows on Feb. 17.

Also at the Charleston Music Hall, Jim and Jaime Dutcher will return for an encore to share “Living with Wolves,” the remarkable story of the six years they spent researching wolves in the wilderness of Idaho.

General admission ticket-holder can see both live performances at the Charleston Music Hall, though seating is first-come, first-serve.

Other venues and exhibits will include:

Brittlebank Park: SEWE’s Sporting Village along the Ashley River will once again host the DockDogs competition, in which dogs of all sizes compete by jumping into a huge, above-ground pool of water. The longest jumpers win.

The sporting village also will feature outdoor outfitters, boats and equipment, fishing and hunting guides, retriever demonstrations, fly fishing and cast net tossing instruction by experts at Charleston Angler, food vendors and live bluegrass music.

Marion Square: The large public square in the heart of Charleston will feature a mix of exhibitions open to the public and reserved for ticket-holders.

The Center for Birds of Prey will be conducting free flight demonstrations at Marion Square, featuring falcons, eagles, owls and hawks.

Charleston chefs will be conducting cooking demonstrations in Marion Square, and ticket-holders can peruse an array of wildlife collectibles, crafts, scrimshaw, jewelry, furnishings.

Francis Marion and Embassy Suites hotels: These hotels near Marion Square will house knifemakers, artists and craftsmen and feature nature photography, limited edition prints and giclées.

Mills House Hotel: This historic hotel at 115 Meeting St. will feature local and regional artists and artisans including painters, wood makers and sculptors

Charleston County Public Library: The 2013 S.C. Junior and Federal Duck Stamp exhibits and Kids for Conservation art contest entries will be on display.

Charleston Marriott: The hotel at 170 Lockwood Blvd. will feature high-end sporting arms dealers and a large display and auction of antique waterfowl decoys, some worth up to $10,000. Auction hours will be 2-5 p.m. Feb. 15 with a preview beginning at noon.

Aiken-Rhett House Museum: A special decoy exhibit, “The Allure of the Decoy: Masterworks from the Collection of Alan and Elaine Haid,” will be presented by Historic Charleston Foundation.

Members of SEWE’s VIP program enjoy perks and insider access throughout the weekend including private art viewings, parties, exclusive lounge areas (with snacks and adult beverages), Saturday breakfast, shuttle service and priority entry to all venues during show hours. A limited number of VIP packages are available and start at just $350 for two people.

Day tickets are $10-$20, three-day passes are $40, and children 10 and under are admitted free with a ticketed adult.

SEWE provides free shuttle service between venues during show hours with a ticket or badge, and handicapped accessible service is available.

For more information on SEWE 2013 or to purchase general admission or special event tickets, go to www.sewe.com or call 723-1748.

Source: SEWE