If you go

What: Southeastern Wildlife Exposition

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Various venues on the Charleston peninsula

Price: General admission tickets are $20 Friday and Saturday, $10 Sunday, $40 for a three-day pass; VIP packages are $150-$5,000

more info: 723-1748 or www.sewe.com

Occasionally, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition still finds itself fighting rough-edged preconceptions: That the event is dedicated to camouflage-clad, tricked-out truck drivers.

It’s an outdated stereotype that quickly can be put to rest, particularly once one considers:

1) SEWE’s impressive stock of North American decoys being exhibited and sold for thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars.

2) The volume and variance of the festival’s original wildlife and sporting art collections, the exhibit halls inside the Charleston Place Hotel teeming with offerings.

3) A programmatic focus on conservation and sustainability, granting awareness to wildlife, habitat and environmental missions.

“The festival has such a variety of cultured aspects, and that’s partially what we’d like to help recognize,” said John Powell, SEWE’s second-year executive director. “This is certainly one of the largest and most important wildlife events in the United States.”

In its 31st year, the festival remains a treat for serious collectors, yes, but other demographics as well. In a broader sense, SEWE functions as a tent, and beneath it are nestled several smaller festivals — or smaller SEWEs, if you will.

Art for everyone

This year’s expo offers a return of old favorites like the Decoy Auction & Exhibit by Guyette, Schmidt & Deeter, which features work from famous practitioners like Elmer Crowell. His decoys reveal carved wings and glass eyes, as he frequently used a rasp to help create “feathers” on the heads and breasts of his decoys.

Other notable artists include the Ward Brothers of Maryland, who focus on decorative pieces, and Ken Anger, who has perfected rasp techniques.

Expect a grand scale as SEWE has not granted this much space to the art of decoys in nearly 20 years. The auction and sale are set for Friday, and the exhibit lasts throughout the weekend.

“These objects have enjoyed increasing value. Many of these are quite rare and unique because of the artist, quality manufactured and the region,” Powell said.

While the decoy exhibit and related programming speaks to a segmented clientele, other events cater to a more general audience, such as the annual showcase of 120 painters, carvers and sculptors in Charleston Place’s grand ballroom.

But there are newer offerings such as 99 Bottles of Art on the Wall, to be held in the Edmunds Room of Charleston Place.

The festival asked SEWE artists to design 99 original wine labels illustrative of various techniques and settings. Then, in a nod to the event’s title, 99 tickets will be sold for $100 apiece, as each ensures the purchase of a bottle. “Everyone who buys one or who enters is guaranteed to win,” Powell said.

Come Saturday evening, a drawing will assign tickets to bottles, and one lucky ticket-holder will take home the special 100th bottle: a magnum size also decorated with an original canvas piece.

For those who can’t wait, each bottle also will feature a “Buy it Now” price. “It provides nice affordable opportunities for the beginner,” Powell said.

The Quick Draw/Speed Sculpt on Friday represents a similar opportunity. Each artist will have an hour to create a piece from start to end, as a live auction will follow.

“It’s fun to walk around and talk to artists to see what they’ve already done, but to watch them create is a different experience,” Powell said.

Featured artists

As usual, SEWE will pay honor to a pair of artists. Jay Kemp of Gainesville, Ga., has been chosen as the Featured Painter, and Pete Zaluzec of Lake Villa, Ill., is the Featured Sculptor.

Kemp first visited the festival as a 21-year-old art student at North Georgia College & State University. He was energized by the opportunity to see one of his earliest heroes: Belgian painter and naturalist Carl Brenders. “I found out he was going to be in Charleston, and I jumped in my Toyota to see him,” Kemp remembers. “When I got there, I started thinking, ‘How could I get in that show?’

“But by the time I was 26 or 27, I got in. It jump-started my career. It helped me earn several offers and a national contract.”

This year, Kemp’s “Riversong” serves as the SEWE poster. The painting depicts an assured egret, one outstretched wing greeting his audience. It’s a detailed piece that took 2½ months start to finish.

Another piece titled “Woodland Forest Repose” is a considerable work, the 4-by-3-foot vertical painting showing an elk bedding down. The texture and minutiae are noticeable; his work could be mistaken for a photograph. In fact, his style is best described as photo-realism or super-realism, dozens of visual points referenced in a single painting. Still, he uses a conceptual or abstract approach to arrive at the finish.

“I don’t give much thought to the identity of the object that I’m painting,” Kemp said. “An elk might be an oval shape, or a tree might be a vertical cylinder. I’m very much in tuned with getting the foundation or basic design right before I layer anything else on top.”

Zaluzec renders some of his best work in three-dimensional fashion, composing his pieces from river stones and bronze casts. He takes pictures of his subjects — for instance, bison, blacktail deer, bull moose, gazelles and grizzlies — and chooses a stone to help make up the animals’ bodies. Then he pours bronze around the stones to give the art shape and form, the casting expertise courtesy of his friend and 2012 SEWE Featured Sculptor Don Rambadt.

Zaluzec arrived at the idea after working with birds for some time. He sought to change his stylistic approach and visited several museums to view modern pieces to see how various artists used different media.

“I came across some contemporary works that combined stone and metal and thought it would be a great combination of materials for wildlife art,” he said.

He finds most of the rocks out West on photography trips but keeps a couple of empty 5-gallon buckets in his pickup to collect interesting stones wherever they may turn up.

“These are some of my favorite works in all of SEWE,” Powell said.

Zaluzec also makes Gampi prints, or heavily processed photographs that involve color, balance and contrast adjustments.

“Although the finished artwork is dramatically different, the basic thought process behind the Gampi and structural work is similar,” Zaluzec said. “I start by doing field work and taking reference photographs. From those, I choose a pose or composition I like and expand on it in my chosen medium.”

Other programming

Naturally, SEWE’s annual itinerary would not be complete without several other stopovers. Among the attractions:

DockDogs: The uber-popular competition is back these year with two – two! – tanks, as dogs of all kinds will vie in water-jumping contests at Brittlebank Park. The 40-by-20-foot tanks will be placed side by side, making SEWE the only event to host two-tank DockDog competitions this side of the Mississippi.

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens animal ambassador Julie Scardina: A frequent guest on NBC’s “Today” show as well as “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” Scardina will share her love for animals and wildlife conservation during her SEWE debut. With more than two decades’ experience in animal care, Scardina has worked with the 8,000-pound killer whale Shamu, along with otters, sea lions, walruses, elephants, kangaroos and various birds of prey. Her presentations include two shows on Friday and two on Saturday.

Living With Wolves: For six years, husband and wife Jim and Jamie Dutcher lived with a pack of wolves in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. The couple settled in a tented camp as they studied the behaviors and social inclinations of the Sawtooth Pack. The Dutchers’ research enabled the documentation of behaviors previously unrecorded, leading to the release of Emmy Award-winning films and publication of the National Geographic book “The Hidden Life of Wolves.” At SEWE, the couple will discuss their experiences during presentations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Chef demos: Come watch Charleston chefs show off their wares in Marion Square with favorite recipes incorporating locally grown and produced ingredients. This year, the lineup includes Michelle Weaver of Charleston Grill, Marc Collins of Circa 1886, John Ondo of Lana, Nate Whiting of Tristan, Fred Neuville of Fat Hen and David Pell of Coast Bar & Grill.

Animals up close: Busch Wildlife Sanctuary grants guests a change to see alligators, bobcats, foxes, birds of prey and snakes at the Charleston Music Hall. Brittlebank Park hosts pony and camel rides, a petting zoo and the Edisto Island Serpentarium tent, while the Center for Birds of Prey returns with free flight demonstrations in Marion Square. Kids love this stuff. “You have to get them interested now,” Powell said. “And really, that’s what much of SEWE is about — honoring nature and helping introduce it to newer audiences.”