Lady of silver, man of pearl: the Charleston Silver Lady sets up shop Bishopville

The Silver Pearl also features work of Pearl Fryar

The Charleston Silver Lady, also known as Dawn Corley, is seen at The Silver Pearl in Bishopville on Tuesday afternoon.
The Charleston Silver Lady, also known as Dawn Corley, is seen at The Silver Pearl in Bishopville on Tuesday afternoon.

Bishopville's newest Main Street shop is shining silver, pearl and porcelain.

The Silver Pearl has been open for business since December, but Tuesday marked a special occasion when both namesakes of the collectibles and antiques gift shop were on hand to talk about their work with shoppers.

Dawn Corley visited the store where patrons can admire and buy an array of pieces in her collection, from silver candelabras to knives with porcelain handles to fabric with her own painted flowers.

"I love watching these things pass from generation to generation, but I don't want it to pass without the information about it," Corley said. "It's so much more personal than people realize. It's like your necklace, your ring, your purse, those are your personal objects. And you can imagine if you're in the 18th century and you own a silver teapot, the ore from the teapot had to come from melting coins to have it, so it's made of actual melted money.

"So the teapot becomes more precious to you because of the labor involved in getting it, and, also, what it's made from is unusual so I think, for me, I love that art that is involved."

Corley has traveled throughout the world appraising silver, from Australia and China to the H.L. Hunley Confederate submarine and the home her family has known for nine generations - Charleston.

In those travels and meetings and lectures, she is not commonly known as Dawn Corley. She is, after all, the Charleston Silver Lady.

"When they called me to do a show on ETV, I was like 20, and it was a dumb name for a 20-year-old ... No one believed about what I did or that I had any authority over any of this information someone else may not have," she said.

The name stuck, and people certainly believe her.

"The information I have and the reason I've been successful is because I listened to my grandmother and her friends all tell me the stories of her pieces," she said.

Today, her silver and all their stories can be found in tiny Bishopville, and the location was no accident.

Corley got introduced to the Greater Bishopville board, which recently received a grant to revitalize and develop the downtown corridor, much like the process in which Sumter is in full steam.

"I love the small-town feel of it here. Charleston is international level now, but it was like this when I was a child. Now, it's almost a relief to walk in here. People are nice. They'll talk to you," Corley said.

She did bring her Charleston roots to Bishopville because that's where her love of silver was born.

All of the silver, porcelain and antiques are from Charleston, and the jewelry sold at the store is typically from those same estates. Pearls in the jewelry are from her friends who dove for them around the world.

"We're just hoping to really interest people with a diverse selection of things and bring them into Bishopville," said Katherine Dickinson, manager at the store. "This was a dilapidated building, and the front couldn't be saved, so we decided since we're doing the Charleston Silver Lady that we would have a Charleston courtyard. We took the roof off and renovated it and turned it into what we hope is a little haven of a gift shop."

The shop also honors Bishopville's Pearl Fryar, the topiary artist who has been featured in National Geographic, The Martha Stewart Show, The New York Times and myriad other outlets, including an award-winning documentary called "A Man Named Pearl." He visited the store to talk with shoppers and sign 2018 calendars sold there featuring his work.

Without prompting, Fryar will preach passion, urging anyone to find what they love in life and work.

Corley doesn't care whether she is across the world, speaking on silver to U.S. presidents or talking to a group of women at a shop in Bishopville. One aspect of what she does is the most important - the stories.

"I think the most important pieces to me are the ones that transfer the emotions from one family to the next. So many times I'll think I have a favorite thing, but then I'll appraise something for someone, and they'll tell me the story of it. And all of a sudden, it makes you feel very, I don't know.

"It changes the way you think about a lot of things - that they do carry emotion with them. So some of my favorite things are probably the least valuable."