Whitney Long and Cheri Leavy are the powerhouse dou behind the incredible business The Southern Coterie. To say the Southern Coterie is a resource for creatives and entrepreneurs would be an understatement – it is that for sure but these ladies are also cheerleaders, connectors, consultants, and lucky for me – mentors. When I launched Well + Wonder three years ago my friend Louise said to me, “the first thing you need to do is get in touch with Whitney and Cheri, they will open so many doors for you.” And that they have! I am so grateful to these ladies and all the doors they have opened for me and Well + Wonder through the Southern C. So, with this year’s Southern C Summit just one week away, their fabulous and inspiring conference held in Sea Island, I was thrilled at the opportunity to chat recently with Whitney and Cheri. I asked Cheri and Whitney to curate their favorite pieces currently on Well + Wonder as well as let y’all find out a bit more about them through our fun Guest Curator Q&A. Thank you, ladies! xo, Mollie
Tell us about yourself.
Whitney Long, co-founder TSC. Busy mom of four kiddos I adore and wife to one great and supportive husband. Alabama girl by birth but also a Georgia girl now having lived here over 25 years.
Cheri Leavy, an eighth generation of the Golden Isles of Georgia, I grew up in the small town atmosphere of St. Simons Island and now split time there and in Athens, Georgia with my husband Vance and our two golden retrievers. We are die-hard University of Georgia Bulldog fans and publish a lifestyle magazine surrounding that fanfare and guide2athens which is an insider’s guide to the best college town in America! Yes, I am biased but it really is true.
My other business I co-founded with Whitney Long is The Southern Coterie which is a resource for creatives and entrepreneurs through our online offerings and in-person events. The Southern C Summit is our annual event in a dreamy locale like Charleston or Sea Island where we bring together the best in business and branding for educational sessions and fabulous sidewinder events for connecting. It only strengthens our online community.
Why did you start your blog/brand/business?
Whitney – After having my children, and as they got closer to school age, I was looking for a creative outlet so I began thinking on how to take my experience from past jobs and do something with it. After some brainstorming and encouragement from my husband, he ran into Cheri and her husband (all old high school/college friends) and casually suggested “y’all should get together and do something” and that we did! Cheri and I connected over lunch not long after and the initial idea to create a blog was formed. With our skill sets, it made sense to create a weekly newsletter and from there, we decided to create a community that promoted and supported the things we love about the South – the people, places and products. Around the time Southern Living graciously dubbed TSC as “The South’s Must Visit Virtual Front Porch” we kicked off our first Summit in 2013 and here we are on the cusp of hosting our 10th Summit!
What is currently on your nightstand? What are you reading?
Whitney – An antique mirrored box containing Chapstick – I have it stashed everywhere – reading glasses, and a well-worn card “7 Scriptures for Praying Parents” for each day of the week. I have had it there since my 19 year old was born and I read it every morning and night. For books, I have the best intentions but am guilty of scrolling through my phone or watching Netflix faves like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Schitt’s Creek. If you want to laugh, watch them! I hope to be better in the new year and these titles are staring at me every night: Bigger Than Me, Shoe Dog and Present Over Perfect.
If you have the entire day to spend in an art museum, which one and why?
Whitney- My oldest son is a freshman at Yale and on a recent trip, I spent a couple of long afternoons with two of our four children meandering through the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art, and Peabody Museum as well as the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. I would love to go back and really take my time and spend a day at each. I have been fortunate to visit many museums and I have to say these are absolutely incredible and filled with amazing exhibits. And they are free! I hope the students realize what a treasure they have at their disposal.
When and where do you get the biggest surge of inspiration?
Whitney – Online – Instagram and Pinterest. In person – our TSC Summit attendees!
Cheri – I find so much inspiration in travel. I am a very aesthetic person and the architecture and art of an area inspires me. I love people and so the creatives behind ideas inspire me. I think that is why the combination of a beautiful venue and gathering creative entrepreneurs together has me doing what I love with The Southern Coterie and Summits.
The greatest color combination that ever existed?
Whitney – Blush and bashful – just kidding! But I really do love a good pink – bright or softer like “millennial pink” or blush which can serve as a neutral and pairs well with so many colors – black, grey, white, orange, brown, green, gold.
Cheri – An impressionistic painting of a sky and especially a sunset or sunrise where the changing light is captured is the greatest color combination ever!
What is your favorite room in your house? Describe it.
Cheri – My favorite room changes all the time much like home is whichever place I am heading to St. Simons or Athens. I am known in the family as the keeper because I have objects and books from past generations. Not all would be considered heirlooms but each has a story and I cherish them. I have numerous gallery walls with a mix of art and majolica. I love oyster plates most of all! Currently, my favorite room is my den on St. Simons because we have a huge fireplace and it’s fun to snuggle up in there. I have a lot of local art in the den of marsh scenes and palms.
What’s your favorite housewarming gift?
Whitney – I love to take a cute basket, that can be re-used as a catch-all later on, and fill it with gourmet goodies such as honey, olive oil, jams, cheese wafers, pickles; etc. I am known as the Condiment Queen. 😊 Locally, on St. Simons, I always find yummy things at Golden Isles Olive Oil or The Market at Sea Island.
The key to making a house a home?
Cheri – A home is a reflection of the personalities and interests of who lives there. I think it is the collections displayed that give a home its character. I have been collecting original art for twenty years. My husband Vance and I always buy art on trips. So our walls tell so many stories about us. That is what makes a house a home. My first painting purchased was by a French artist and I made payments on it for many months to Mildred Huie Wilcox. Millie owned Left Bank Art Gallery, the first art gallery on St. Simons Island that her mother started in the 1940s. Millie was and still is my mentor, as a female entrepreneur, consummate entertainer, and fine art connoisseur, who truly sparked my passion for collecting. She was gracious enough to let me continue the monthly payments for easily a decade and I have some beautiful pieces. Millie is retired now and would love what you are doing at Well + Wonder and find it so progressive to have an art gallery online!
So, tell us a bit about your corner of the world – where do you live and what do you love about it?
Whitney – I live on St. Simons Island and been here for over 25 years now. The Golden Isles of Georgia are magical. If you haven’t been, you should! I love the water, the history, the Spanish Oaks, the people. I feel blessed to be able to raise my family here.
What is the benefit of buying art through a collective?
Cheri – I think a collective is a wonderful way to find emerging talent in one spot that has been vetted and curated for you. And of course, there is power in community for the artists to bring a larger spotlight on their work as a group.
Photos by Kellie Boyd Photography