Charleston Waterways

Submitted by Mary Edna Fraser


Client: Charleston International Airport

Location: Charleston, USA

Completion date: 1989

Artwork budget: $22,000

Project Team


Mary Edna Fraser


Becky Beaman

Charleston County Aviation Authority


Richard Powell


Charleston Waterways is a 74 yard sculpture of batik on silk 3 feet wide, weaving a draped representation of the marshes, coastline and peninsula which one flies over when arriving to Charleston International Airport. Each of the 7 drapes repeat architectural lines, lending a tentlike ceiling to the 20’ x 12’ x 20’ central atrium space. Hanging from 20 points, this sculpture reveals its facets from various entries into the space, changing as the viewer moves below the drapes of silk. The design also works from the windows of the second story conference room.


The artwork offers a map of the coastal city in a sculptural form designed from sailing charts. Mary Edna had swatches of colors used through out the airport provided by the design team including all bricks, textiles and seating. Palm trees were placed in this central area in huge pots chosen by Mary Edna that match the dyed silks' dominant colors.

In addition to Charleston Waterways, to accent hallways throughout the building, two additional batiks measuring 7' x 12' were installed which depict other local features from the aerial perspective. The batiks vividly reinforce the exhilaration of flight and beauty of the landscape from the bird’s eye view which the traveler has just experienced.

The artwork is an inviting entry to the historic city of Charleston and its contemporary culture. The art differentiates our public institution from other airports. The silk sculpture was integrated into the overall design of the building, even from the outside where you could see it through the glass. An iron gazebo sits under the batik sculpture on a tabby base, made by treasured ironworker Philip Simmons. The artworks provide a unique place to pause and a sense of peace in the busy environment.


Mary Edna was asked to collaborate with Simmons on the gazebo, having worked with him on a previous commission for city of Charleston. They reviewed his designs and Fraser liked a rounded garden gate concept. Fraser suggested making the whole design shaped like an X, dividing the seating area into four quadrants, so that Simmons' two-dimensional design could be translated to a sculptural form. Fraser and Simmons bring a masculine/feminine balance to the space, coming together as friends and fellow artists, old and young, in this masterful installation.

The batik was not initially part of the project. Fraser envisioned her silks draped above the gazebo, repeating the smooth curves of the ironwork below. She presented her idea as a moquette to the Airport design committee, which included the architect Richard Powell (LS3P), donors, and members of the Charleston County Aviation Authority. The moquette, made of straight pins, silk, straws and thread, allowed Fraser to test designs from below and above until elegantly balanced. The design team accepted the first design unanimously.

Additional Information

Installed May 1989, the piece was destroyed shortly after by Hurricane Hugo, September 1989. The work was recommissioned for May 1991. Fraser intensified the dye colors for the second piece, learning that brighter colors hold up better in large spaces. Presently, the sculpture is safely contained in Fraser's studio while the airport is being remodeled. This is a favorite public work and many have called asking about the art. This piece began Fraser's sculpture career, creating monumental architectural commissions. She appreciates the faith that her city had in her as a young artist to actualize her vision on an unprecedented scale.