OBX Attracts Vibrant Artistic Community
This holiday season we are all looking for that perfect gift. You know, something out of the ordinary. Fortunately for us, there are obx artists all up and down the Outer Banks that specialize in “uncommon and unusual” gifts. From glassblowers to jewelry made from leftover surfboard resin to repurposed wood pallets, you can find just the right gift to make any holiday special….and you don’t even have to leave the beach! Welcome to the world of uncommon art of the Outer Banks.
Muse Originals OBX, located at Milepost 2.5 on the Beach Road, sells works produced by about 70 artists. Owner Ami Cannon Hill watches over the 2000 sq. ft. eclectic shop located in the historic Kitty Hawk firehouse. In addition to the beautiful paints, mosaics, batik pieces, paintings and jewelry sold in the store, visitors can also watch glass being blown in the back of the store.
David Pipkin heats pieces of glass on his lathe to 2000 degrees. He creates everything from wine decanters and glasses to guitar slides and honey dippers. Using a torch to melt the glass, Pipkin gently shapes the borosilicate glass with tweezers and air into the different items he crafts.
He layers different colors and imbeds shapes in the schott glass which he imports from Germany because he says, “It’s the highest quality glass you can buy.” He also etches glass with patterns to personalize items for customers.
Ever wonder what happens to leftover resin from surfboards? Mark Slagle collects the pieces that are normally thrown away because he loves their vibrant colors and interesting shapes. He looks for colors and shapes that complement each other and uses them to make pendants, necklaces and key chains.
Slagle took classes in jewelry making at the College of the Albemarle’s Roanoke Island campus. The process he has developed involves cutting and sanding the resin pieces to the size he wants. He then polishes the pieces to complete the process.
Bonney Brown had been painting with watercolors for over 30 years when she discovered the Indonesian art of Batik. She uses wax and paint to create images on canvas, cloth, silk or paper. Brown has used the technique to make matted hanging art as well as pillows.
Inspired by her volunteer work at the Roanoke Island Aquarium, she combines her love of watercolors with the sea turtles the organization rescues at its Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center to create her unique works.
Liz Pritchard works at a mortgage company by day but at night, she comes home to “my happy place” in the workshop under her house. The Ohio native came to the Outer Banks to visit her sister and fell in love. She and her husband relocated three months later and she’s been painting on wood ever since.
Pritchard recycles pallets and wood pieces into various geometric shapes combining different shades of wood to make pictures. “I paint animals, mermaids and whatever makes other people happy.” Though she has no formal art training, she said she’s been around art all her life because her family is artistic.
Randi O’Sullivan and her husband flipped a coin back in 2011 and landed on the Outer Banks. She makes mandalas on canvas, jewelry from miniature wood slices, and mermaids on canvas or sea shells.
Her mandalas can take many forms. When she makes them, she says she gets into a meditative state but never knows what the final product will look like. “Whatever energies I’m feeling at the time come out in the end result,” she says.
Susan Ogden loves octopus and paints them on canvas, wooden bowls, bread boards, sugar molds and even re-purposed beach fencing. A retired assistant teacher from New Jersey, she says she always knew she would end up living on the beach.
Her “ah ha” moment occurred when she came down to take care of her grandson. “I called my husband and said we were getting a house here.” That was four years ago, and she hasn’t looked back. “When I moved down here, I wanted to do something interesting.”
Vegan is not usually a term applied to jewelry, but Dawn Vinson is quick to explain that her cork necklaces and earrings are not only made of sustainable cork but also vegan. “It’s a great alternative to leather.”
Though she’s only been making cork jewelry for about a year, Vinson is very knowledgeable about her product. The trees are grown in Portugal, Spain and France and the bark can’t be harvested until the tree is nearly 30 years old. She orders her materials from Portugal and the cork comes in strips or sheets.
Julie Bancroft and her husband have shown that concrete is versatile and can be used in many ways in a home or business. Her husband trained at the Concrete Countertop Institute in Raleigh in 2014. That training has led to a full-time job for the two of them, “literally seven days a week,” she says.
Their pieces run the gamut from small bathroom accessories to restaurant bar tops. They use glass fiber reinforced concrete because it’s lighter and more flexible than traditional concrete. The polymers allow them to color and stain the final product so that it doesn’t look like concrete. The final step in the process, which Bancroft says “gets pretty messy,” is the wet polish with a diamond grinder.
Patricia Middleton kept a mosaic from a high school art teacher for over 30 years in her Richmond garage because she always knew that she wanted to do art. When she finally retired from nursing four years ago, she decided to go for it.
Her mosaics combine pieces of glass, fabric and dishes that she picks up in thrift stores. Her husband cuts out the wooden bases for her projects and she assembles mermaids, turtles, crabs, boats, dolphins and anything else that strikes her fancy. Each piece of glass is glued separately and then grout is used to fill in the gaps between pieces.♦
Jane Elfring, a freelance writer and photographer, lives in Elizabeth City. She writes about the history and life in Northeastern North Carolina.