Creative Spaces

Three studios give Wilmington-area artists places to produce pieces and work in community

BY Taylor Hammeke

The ArtWorks’ hallways showcase each studio’s unique exterior. Taylor Hammeke
The ArtWorks’ hallways showcase each studio’s unique exterior. Taylor Hammeke

The art scene in Wilmington is thriving, with a profusion of talented artists producing compelling works in every imaginable medium.

“The abundance of originality is unique to Wilmington,” says Amy Grant, owner of Art in Bloom, a gallery in Mayfaire that exhibits local art.

Wilmington has become an arts destination, with much of the work produced at three working studios in the downtown area. They vary in size and appearance but are united in the mission to provide space for local artists to create and grow in their work and contribute to the robust art community.

The Artworks

Located at 200 Willard Street, the 38,000 square foot building consists of 60 working studios and a display space titled Gallery Verrazzano. Betsy and Jim Knowles have owned the building since 1998. It formerly housed cars rented to the movie industry and operated as a manufacturing facility before housing its first artist.

In December 2012, 36 people responded to a Craigslist ad for studio space, which led to the evolution into what it is today. The logo is a nautilus shell, a fitting representation of how the ArtWorks has expanded and continues to grow. There is a Creative Child Studio with classes for kids.

Chris Bloom’s studio. Courtesy Betsy Knowles/the ArtWorks

The studio space resembles the French Quarter in New Orleans in the 1890s. Reminiscent of a village, the halls connecting the studios are lined with lighting resembling streetlights. The exterior of each studio was designed by the resident artists. Interiors contain unique siding, painted brick, paneling, cedar shake siding, copper, shutters and windows, akin to small houses.

The space has 50 resident artists, who work in various mediums including paint, jewelry, pottery, pyrography (wood burning), costume making, scarves and bags, fiber art, wall hanging, silver and performing arts.

Painter Janet Sessoms typically puts in six days a week at her studio.

“It is wonderful to have a space away from home where I can go to display my art,” she says.

The artists have 24-hour access to their space.

“Whenever creative juices hit, they can be here,” Betsy Knowles says.

The artists have created energy and companionship — they feed off each other and help each other grow.

Gallery Citrine

Meroe Wheatley and Deb Williams share the featured studio space, showcasing eye-grabbing floral paintings and wire sculpture birds. Taylor Hammeke

Gallery Citrine is located at 17 S. 2nd Street, two blocks from the Cape Fear River. It received its name from the color of the floors, which inspire “creativity, joy and light,” owner Donna Launey says.

Gallery Citrine opened in 2019 and contains six working studios. The nine resident artists are primarily painters, and there is a resident wire artist.

Launey moved from Portland, Oregon in 2015 and began painting and doing workshops with other artists before opening Gallery Citrine. The artists formed a co-op and engage the community through workshops and art shows in the gallery.

“Every time I enter Gallery Citrine and work in my studio, I feel a timeless sense of peace, inspiration and creativity. Visitors frequently comment on the happy, welcoming atmosphere here,” says Deb Williams, who creates whimsical wire sculpture birds.

The artists are passionate about serving through their work. They have hosted fundraisers that have benefited breast cancer awareness, Cape Fear River Watch, Adopt an Angel and Save the Children.

They hosted Bra-ha-ha, a fundraiser featuring bras decorated by local artists to benefit “Going Beyond the Pink.”

Acme Art Studios

Acme’s gallery space. Taylor Hammeke

Located at 711 N. 5th Avenue in the Brooklyn Arts District, Acme is over 30 years old and houses more than 20 working studios. It is housed in an unassuming brick building with no windows.

With a car hood as an awning, the green front door opens into a type of Narnia. The long corridor between the studios is hung with artwork that the public can enjoy on Fourth Friday Gallery Nights. The art along the finished partial white walls contrasts with the ductwork visible in the industrial ceiling. The walls section off studio space, but the high ceilings lend a fluidity throughout the warehouse.

Each studio is unique, displaying works in progress, finished work, and the specific mediums required for each artist’s craft.

There is a strong camaraderie among the resident artists. From checking in on one another’s work, knowing when they will be on exhibit, and recognizing their work in clients’ homes, the community is palpable.

Fritzi Huber, one of the resident artists, makes handmade paper. A swinging door in front of her studio space displays a sample of her unique work.

Founders Dick Roberts, Pam Toll and Marshall Milton still have studios in the space. Roberts has a large studio with a skylight, industrial high ceilings, and numerous large paintings that have been created in the past 30 years stacked vertically on shelving. A sofa, two director’s chairs, colorful paint on the floor, and a workspace with his paints and brushes tell a story of the art that has been created in the space and instills wonder and curiosity about works that are still to be developed.

There are four outdoor studios for welding and casting. Sculptor Dumay Gorham has an outdoor studio that houses his tools, safety equipment, numerous cans of paint, a chalkboard displaying a to-do list, a workstation, multiple completed projects on display, a cardboard cutout from a recent sculpture, and supplies for work to come.

Gorham has many noteworthy sculptures around the Wilmington community including the Seahawk sculpture at University of North Carolina Wilmington, the sea serpent at the New Hanover County Arboretum, the Live Oak Bank tree sculpture, and works at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and the WilmingtonWomen’s and Children’s hospital.

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