If you walk a block or two from the occasionally cracked and toppled tombstones in Apalachicola Chestnut Cemetery, past the palm trees dying from lethal bronzing, to a house next door to the Culligan place, and look through the garden next to it, you’ll see a small building in back.
Walk closer and peer in and there you’ll see a tall woman with billowing gray hair maybe banging with a small hammer at a workbench inside a room full of shiny metal objects, many dangling from the ceiling.
Or maybe she’ll be dremeling, that is working with a rotary tool at engraving or grinding the copper sheet laid out before her.
The room had once been an automotive shop, since at least the 1980s, so the long ago sound of clanging, however faint, has resounded in this space before. Since then, though, such practical industry has given way to artistry.
When you knock at the door, and the woman looks up from her labors, you’ll be greeted warmly, because that’s the manner of the person Daphne Evanoff is, with the broad smile, gentle gaze and cheerful countenance of someone who works with far softer things than sheets of copper roofing.
But that’s what she and her husband Bobby James did for many years, she kept the books and he and his crew did the climbing, and together they built a St. George Island business with a reputation for doing reliable work on the finest roofs from Carrabelle to the Cape, and a satisfied client list to back it up.
Daphne, a college educated artist who moved down from upstate New York to Franklin County many moons ago, who met and married her husband here, didn’t abandon her avocation over those years, just relegated it to a passenger seat in her life. He was her fisherman, and she was her mermaid, and their partnership thrived.
But with Bobby looking to slow down, they started eyeing the next chapter they would forge, and in 2019, after Hurricane Michael, they bought the spot at 90 Eighth Street and she began creating not only a lovely home, but a 1,000-square foot studio behind it she calls her “happy place” and designates on a sign as “90 b.”
The studio is furnished to both accommodate and soothe the frenetic quality of her work, with a huge stump-thick slice of a tree to bang out her works, and an equipped bench where she finely shapes the malleable metal. Next to the window that faces out into the garden is a separate corner, with an armchair, lamp and rug where she can collect her thoughts, read a little, maybe listen to music, divided by a screen from where hammering, sawing, slicing and gluing are what must be done.
That space where she makes the mobiles and Christmas ornaments and assorted sculptures caught the attention of the Glaze family, from Acworth, Georgia, when they stopped by last weekend. The mom and three college-age kids brought along her mom, Mary Barfield, who along with her husband “Barfly” (actually William) had come to the island nearly 50 years ago.
Her late husband had been a longtime friend and boon companion of Bobby’s, and the family over the years had come to admire Daphne’s artistry, her mobiles of cows jumping over the moon, her mermaids, her turtles, each shaded with copper sulfate for a controlled patina.
Last weekend they bought Christmas ornaments, which is a small bit of artisanry close to Daphne’s heart, ever since her childhood of modest means, living outside of town, during a season when buying gifts was not an affordable custom for her family.
“I have been making ornaments since I was 10 years old,” she said. “It’s what I did around the holidays. Some people bake and make cookies; I make ornaments. Friends from middle school still have them.”
Because the family lived closer to the woods, Daphne’s imagination was captivated by woodland beings, and they have emerged as a theme in her work.
“We played with faeries and elves and built houses for them,” she said. “Left gifts and goodies for the troll who lived under the bridge near our home.”
Daphne’s drawings, as precise and exacting as her metal work, have been a part of her artistic work ever since then. “It was my escape,” she said. “I could create my own reality while I’m in a drawing.”
Larger projects that she’s working on feature “Treasures of East Bay,” everything from sea turtles to dolphins and tarpons, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research reserve.
She’s made copper cats and dogs ornaments and mobiles featured at Oysterbones Bones on Market Street, and many of her works of art can be found at Bee Inspired Too on Commerce Street.
Or you can just stop by her studio. It’s just across from the Chestnut Cemetery but very much alive.
Daphne Evanoff’s studio at 90 Eighth Street is open most days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. She can be reached at (850) 899-3715.