by Michael Lay
Blue Pelican Gallery, like many a brightly decorated Easter egg hidden in plain view, can be surprisingly easy to miss. The sky blue building with the butter yellow sun porch entrance is set just off Highway 12 on a curve of the road squarely in the middle of Hatteras Village. Sheltered and half concealed by an expansive and ancient live oak that begs to be climbed and a quartet of gnarled and windsculpted old cedars, the restored and renovated circa 1950 Hatteras Island cottage can be all but invisible to drivers unfamiliar with the village, as it proved to be even to an Outer Banks local like myself. I drove a half mile past the gallery before realizing my error.
Once you arrive, you’ll be glad you did. The tease begins from the minute you walk onto the sun porch with its colorful chalkboard signs promoting art classes, workshops and demonstrations and a glass display case containing examples from a recent “paint your own mermaid” workshop. Stepping into the gallery is to become immersed in a wall-to-wall visual fiesta before you can even shut the door behind you. Art of all kinds — paintings, prints, photography, ceramics, jewelry, hand crafts and more — envelopes you. Approachable art. Affordable art. Temptation.
“We try to have something for everyone,” Jenn says. “Even if you need to buy a gift for a man or something for a child, we probably have something in the gallery that will be the perfect gift solution.”
Jenn has good reason to feel confident about the Blue Pelican, which she opened in 2005. Somehow, the cheerful, well-stocked, seven-room gallery manages to feel far larger inside than appears possible from the outside. And right away you begin envisioning how specific artworks might enliven your own walls, all the while appreciating the considerable gift-giving potential of candles, earrings and pendants, decorative yet functional ceramic dishware and any number of other one-of-a-kind items. The Christmas gift list almost makes itself!
Perhaps Holly Daniels Christiansen’s Dune Jewelry will catch your attention with its variety of designs marrying actual Hatteras sand with resin and sterling silver to create unique and collectable keepsakes. Or maybe Sara Hunter’s fabulous and functional painted earthenware pottery will strike your fancy. Don and Laura Saddlemire’s patinated copper ornaments and charms trace their material heritage back to the roof shingles of a 1920s Outer Banks home. Vicki Sutton’s textured clay creations depict a variety of sea life from sea horses to shrimp, crabs, squid and octopuses. Jodi Ohl’s mixed media works combine bold colors, textures and motivational messages into finished pieces that would be at home on any wall. And this is but a sampling of what Blue Pelican Gallery has to offer.
Intermixed with the works of all these accomplished American artists and artisans, a number of whom call the Outer Banks home, is Jenn’s own impressive array of artistic creations. Possessed of a vivacious youthfulness which belies the fact that this Hatteras native is the mother of two sixteen year-old twin daughters, Delaney and Avery, and a son, Chris, who is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Jenn is practically bursting with a bright-eyed creative energy, exhibiting an enthusiasm for making things that becomes increasingly evident as you travel through the gallery noting colorful textile-wrapped bottles, greeting cards featuring photography and digitally manipulated images, jewelry and more, all bearing her imprint.
Many of these creations have their genesis in Jenn’s well-equipped off-site studio. The studio is an art-making investment her realtor husband Dan jokingly refers to as “adventure capital,” and it is a purely creative zone where the artist experiments with new techniques, refines her remarkably diverse artistic output and produces product that quickly finds its way to the gallery.
As your exploration of the gallery continues, you come to its last two rooms — the “yarn shop” — a stuffed-to-the-ceiling yarn and knitting supplies emporium. Jenn’s artistic eye is in evidence even here. Whereas one might expect such a multitudinous selection of yarns to be organized by brand, material composition or size, Jenn does things differently. “I organize by color,” she explains. “I essentially paint the walls with the yarn colors.” A corporate retail display specialist might not approve but, as your eyes scan the two rooms, it’s clear that it makes perfect sense.
The yarn shop features Cascade Yarns and Darn Good Yarn, fair trade yarns (yarns produced with an emphasis on social and environmental sustainability) and ribbons for jewelry making, knitting and crochet. “Most of the yarn customers are Outer Banks visitors,” Jenn says, noting how they eagerly stock up on yarns they often can’t easily find at home, usually with the goal of initiating a new project or finally finishing an ongoing project while relaxing on vacation.
Running an art gallery on a remote barrier island, always subject to the whims of seasons and weather, can be a challenging avocation, but Jenn has managed to keep the lively gallery chugging along through both Mother Nature’s ferocious gales and bruising economic tempests such as the recent Great Recession. Through it all she has maintained a sense of humor and whimsy that is reflected throughout the gallery, and it is with a satisfying sense of accomplishment that she, her staff, family, friends and artists eagerly anticipate Blue Pelican Gallery’s 10th anniversary later this fall. (See sidebar.)
All you have to do to share in the vibrant Blue Pelican Gallery joie de vivre is to not drive past it.