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SEWE's newest events include fly-fishing courses, event featuring miniature art pieces

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Dogs compete in the first round of the DockDogs competition on Feb. 16, 2018, at Brittlebank Park during the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. This year's event will feature a video wall showing replays of the demonstration's funniest moments. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

One of the most challenging aspects of Charleston's annual wildlife exposition is striking the balance between new events that pique interest and regular displays enjoyed by returning guests.

"The key thing is baby steps," said John Powell, executive director of the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition. "We can’t make drastic changes every year.”

While guests can still expect the best in wildlife art and sporting life at the annual exposition, new aspects of this year's premiere exhibition include events centered around displays of pocket-sized artwork, lessons in fly- fishing, and improved visibility at the popular DockDogs demonstration.

The annual gathering, which takes place Feb. 14-16 in Charleston, is noted by its organizers as the premiere wildlife art event on the East Coast. Now marking its 38th run, the exposition draws around 45,000 guests each year and generates an estimated $50 million annually, organizers said.

This year, things kick off with the Big Night for Small Works event on Wednesday. The new feature will include live performances, pocket-sized art pieces and grand displays.

It's a ticketed event that will showcase the work of 100 painters, carvers and sculptors in the Fine Art Gallery at Charleston Place.

Wes and Rachelle Siegrist, who will be displaying artwork, have been showcasing at the exposition since 2001, which is when they decided to specialize in miniature art pieces.

The couple is excited about increased attention on tinier paintings. They feel that this year's event will give guests who've missed the artwork in the past a second chance to see the displays.

Attendees will also be able to watch the artists at work as painters engage in an art-making process that can ultimately take six hours a day for two weeks.

To do the work, artists take on a mindset that "everything has to be reduced and scaled," Wes said. Pictures are painted with tiny brushes on table easels.

“We tease and tell kids we paint with eyelashes," said Wes Siegrist. "You constantly have to question how much detail you can put in."

What's most rewarding at the exposition is hearing accolades from guests, many of whom purchase and display pieces at their homes on easels, end tables and cabinets. 

“That’s where the joy is," Wes said. "We never get tired of that.”

Also new to this year's exposition is the chance for anglers to learn techniques in fly-fishing from a major retail company.

SEWE has partnered with Orvis, which specializes in fly-fishing, hunting and sporting goods, to help guests learn how to use lightweight lures to catch fish. The event, which takes place Thursday on the Charleston Gaillard Center lawn, will be guided by noted fly-fishing expert and author Tom Rosenbauer, who has explored waters across the globe.

Some of his favorite fishing places include the trout streams in Michigan, Wyoming and Idaho, along with  Bahamian waters populated with bonefish.

He noted how Bahamians have protected coastlines from major development by designating vast areas as national parks, an effort he thinks has been a missed opportunity in the United States.

Rosenbauer added that guests will be surprised to learn that fly-fishing isn't as hard as most people think, and the practice isn't just used to catch trout.

While South Carolina waters don't harbor many trout, except in Upstate lakes and streams, the techniques can be used to lure catfish, bass, bream and carp, he said.

“I’m sure there is a lot of opportunity there that people never thought of before," he said.  “Anything that will eat a bug or a minnow, you can catch with a fly rod.”

Powell, who noted SEWE is also working with Baker Motor Co. to bring Land Rover driving lessons to the exposition, called the new partnership with Orvis a mutually beneficial relationship.

“I think it’s important for people in Charleston to see a store that’s part of a larger brand, when they come to a city like Charleston, they’re investing," he said.

Several other adjustments have been made to the exhibition's popular events to improve visibility.

The well-known DockDogs event held at Brittlebank Park will include a new feature. The demonstration that welcomes crowds who flock to watch high-flying dogs soar through the air and into a pool will include a video wall. The screen will offer replays so guests can relive the demonstration's funniest moments.

“We’re always looking for that next thing," Powell said. "We don’t want to make too many big leaps. But small steps in the right direction.”

Organizers are already looking ahead to 2021 as they consider who they will bring in for performances and what new programs to implement at the Gaillard Center, Powell said.

Reach Rickey Dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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