A seat at history's table: Charleston man repurposing city's past
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) —
A Lowcountry man has dedicated his life to repurposing Charleston's history, a history that would otherwise rot in the woods of Camp St. Christopher.
In the light of day, Camp St. Christopher bears a sort of angelic glow reminiscent of its purpose. Father Bob Lawrence with the Diocese of South Carolina says the camp focuses its efforts on protecting and preserving its surroundings.
"One of our real values here is being a good stewardship of all of God's creations and whenever we can recycle or reuse or repurpose the things that have been entrusted to us here, that's simply reflecting that value," Lawrence said.
The camp has worked hand-in-hand with Capers Cauthen of Landrum Tables to preserve the beauty and history of Charleston for as long as he can.
"One of the things I love about stuff like this is it's just an opportunity to do something with this awesome wood. Even though it's treated it'll still make some great furniture," Cauthen said as he wanders towards a a collection of old wood. "Here's the honey hole as we like to call it."
A day at camp yields a treasure trove of nature's finest.
"There's some good stuff right there. That's what I like," he said, stopping to examine a particularly shapely piece of wood. "Look at that there - woohoo - make some good furniture."
From forest to table, Landrum Tables gives Charleston's history a second life.
"You can see what a catch it is to get the boardwalk. It's got so much history. It's just not worth throwing away -- we want to save it," Cauthen said.
After a day of hunting through the camp, it ends "like a good fishing trip," Cauthen says, with a truck full of materials and plenty of big plans for the days and weeks ahead.
That his favorite fishing grounds just happen to be at a camp named for the patron saint of travel is almost fated for Cauthen. About 10 years ago, Cauthen faced an uphill battle.
"Life is an interesting journey and if I was to say my faith wasn't involved I wouldn't be telling the truth," he said. "My father passed away and kinda opened my eyes to his life's work. So I immediately thought, 'Well what am I gonna do that's gonna have value at the end of my life?'"
And that turned him to God.
"One of the first sermons I heard was -- whatever you do, if you're a lawyer, doctor, carpenter, musician -- try to do it with God as the glory of your business," Cauthen said.
Sanding off his past, Cauthen picked up his tools and out of the rubble of his grandmother's garage came inspiration. She lives in Avondale in a home built around the turn of the century, and that history gave him an idea.
"It's a dead tree. It's wood that's been milled so in my mind it's usable even if you have to pull a few nails out. That kinda presented the character for the furniture," Cauthen said.
The result is quintessenitally religious for Father Lawrence.
"By Capers taking wood that would otherwise be discarded to sit and rot in a wood pile in our woods and giving it new life, in many ways it's the epitome of that resurrection that is available to all of us who call ourselves Christian," Lawrence said.
And on the holy grounds of the camp, history can be found in every tree ring and board, so it was only fitting to give it a name linked to Camp St. Christopher.
"Not only is he using our wood but he's created a particular table he calls the 'St. Christopher' table. It's a particular design," Lawrence said.
"Many of the people who are buying them are not just buying them because it's a nice table but because of their own memories of being in this place and of now sending their children here."
Cauthen's work is bringing himself, the camp, and the people of the Lowcountry full circle.
"They're giving us an opportunity to save the wood which I love so I say I'd love to give back to you. I have built a couple little crosses and altars, but I'd like to do something bigger for them," Cauthen said.
Cauthen's work doesn't only come from Camp St. Christopher. In some cases, he pulls from centuries old wood in Charleston's oldest homes.
"It's just real solid wood furniture. It was here before I was born. It's gonna be here after I'm gone and hopefully there will be more of it in the form of tables," he said.
Cauthen and his reclaimed Charleston furniture can be found most Saturdays at the farmers market in downtown Charleston. He says more Camp St. Christopher tables will be available around the start of summer.