The Art Factory
721 Surry Street • 910-399-3793
8/31, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Live music, wine and art! • Free
The sounds and smells of artists permeate down by the river in the old Jacobi Hardware building at 721 Surry Street. The brainchild of Marcus Rich and Patti Felton, both born in NC, the renovation of this old warehouse—which has been in existence since 1938—is an ongoing project. Today, its seeing a transformation to accommodate at least 15 resident artists, including a furniture maker, a glass blower, painters, ceramists and many others. Huge rooms lead to more open spaces, complete with original wooden beams and hardwood floors. It’s already abuzz with a creative atmosphere.
Excited to open The Art Factory, the couple felt there was a shortage of affordable studio space for artists in Wilmington. Drawing inspiration from the Torpedo Factory in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, and closer to home at the River Arts District in Asheville, the renovations are well under way and the artists are already moving in.
“Our goal is to provide an affordable venue for artists to be able to create and sell their work from within the same facility,” Rich describes. “This whole district is ready to bloom. Just you wait, Wilmington Riverside is the new place to be!”
The Art Factory will have a small stage, complete with a lighting rig, and will be able to host an array of events, from live music to wine tastings and art exhibitions. “Each month, we will have an opening that will feature the work of one artist,” Rich says. Its grand opening on August 31st will feature all of its current artists, music by Big Al Hall and wine by Silver Coast Winery.
In addition to the extensive and diverse collection of art on display, the Art Factory is currently featuring two Asheville artists that have never shown in Wilmington before—Eli Corbin, a watercolor and acrylic artist, and Alan Kaufman, a found-art folk artist. “We’re looking to have all kinds of collaboration with the artist community in Asheville; it’s very exciting,” Rich continues.
Resident artists include Janet Sessoms, Darren Mulvenna and Paul Stavovy, among others. Mother of three, Sessoms joined in June. “This is my gift to me for my retirement!” she beams. “Having taught art for most of my working life, it’s wonderful to have the time and space to just paint everyday!” Sessoms’ watercolor and acrylic paintings of close-up irises and nature features show her attention to detail and fascination with, as she says, “the little things that people may miss.”
Elena Wright creates truly unique and custom-made stained glass. A Wilmington transplant since 2010 by way of Massachusetts, Wright and her husband moved “because of the climate, art scene, fishing and boating and what seemed to be some of the nicest people we’ve ever met on the East Coast,” she says. Having explored many different art mediums in her time, Wright finally discovered stained glass.
“After working with papier mache for four years, I took a beginner’s stained-glass course in 2001 and got hooked on light,” she notes. “I believe glass is the loveliest and most versatile medium in existence.”
In addition to the visual artists, the Art Factory has recently added David Rishel’s healing arts studio to its ever-growing inhabitants. There is space for a yoga class and even a ready-made music studio, complete with a sound-proof room.
“We also have an extensive tribal-art collection that has been authenticated and appraised by Charles Jones African Arts,” Rich says as he stands in the entrance, surrounded by beautiful wooden pieces of furniture, woven baskets, among odd yet wonderful artifacts that definitely come from further afield.
Rich is well-traveled due to his rugby and educational careers and has lived in New Zealand, Africa, the United Kingdom and South America before returning to NC and finally settling in Wilmington. Describing himself “ageless,” he’s clearly a man with big ideas. Together with Wilmington local Patti Felton, they have the vision to make Wilmington’s newest art haven a factory of interconnected innovation and talent.