What an artist pours into a sculpture or painting isn’t quantifiable, in spite of hundreds of years spent wrestling with such a query. To take raw materials and bring forth what no one fathomed before is an inexplicable combination of technical skill, talent and imagination. It is work—not just hobby. It is something I ruminate upon frequently.
I was fortunate to be brought up by parents who valued the arts and took me to museums often, a hobby which has continued into my adult life. When I was able to travel with Jock regularly (before events here required my constant attention), I spent many days in museums across the country and world. Like many people who are drawn to visual art, I wish desperately I had the talent or skill to create something so enduring.
Consequently, I love art supply stores. Love them! Looking at all the beautifully colored paints and pencils makes me positively giddy with all the potential they possess. One store I have loved for years—which requires much careful focus upon entrance, else I will buy everything in sight—is Occasions in the Cotton Exchange. Last fall while looking for a new journal, I noticed to the left of the checkout a new display for Caran d’Ache artist pens. Oh, my! (Even now, as I write the name, I manage to lose all ability to think rationally.) Taking a deep breath and trying to sound like a calm and reasonable person, I asked owner Tiffany Kitchen, “So … ah … are you going into art supplies?” She smiled that beautiful smile and confirmed they were starting with that display to see how it went, eventually hoping to expand their offerings.
Caran d’Ache is like crack for me. I wanted it so bad, yet I knew I couldn’t do anything useful with them. When I traveled through Europe, hitting every art museum possible, I took Caran d’Ache colored pencils with me—so just the sight of them evokes memories of one of the most transformative times in my life. Now, here they were: less than a block away from the bookstore. What was I going to do?
Last week, I stopped in to say hi to Tiffany and the most handsome art-supply salesdog in Wilmington, Lager. (So soft! So sweet! And obviously deeply concerned about quality fine art supplies.) The offerings had indeed expanded, and now included graphite and watercolor pencils, as well as sketch books that start at $5 and up.
Well, I thought, for the CFCC art student in a crisis this would be a godsend!
Previously, I had confined my art supply purchases to Townhouse Art & Frame Center located near UNCW. By virtue of having to drive to get there, it kept things under check a little bit, and helped me limit things to mostly presents for artist friends.
With the retirement of George Kazantzis from Townhouse, changes have been inevitable. Long loved by local artists and amateur pretenders like myself, George’s son, Doug, and his lovely wife, Lisa, are keeping Townhouse alive, but the art supply side has morphed into a new incarnation called Arrow Fine Art Supplies, which moved to 616 Castle Street in the Art and Antique District downtown. I had been mooning through the window each time I saw a show across the street at The Cape Fear Playhouse. When I wandered in on a recent sunny afternoon, I had the good fortune to discover Linda Arrow, with whom many people will remember from Townhouse. She smiled and confirmed she was Lisa’s sister.
“I just couldn’t fill that big space,” she explained, referring to Townhouse. “The Art and Antique District is close to the community college, the studios, and this space with the exposed brick,” she indicated, pointing toward the walls, “and the ceiling just spoke to me.”
The tin above was incredible, finishing the room’s Bohemian, artsy feel. Though smaller than Townhouse, Arrow has an incredible selection of easels, paints, pastels, pencils, papers of all sizes, and compositions, models, erasers and more! I wanted everything in the store, especially the oil paint set and beautiful box easel in the window. I asked if there was anything she hadn’t been able to get for someone.
“I have a lot of resources,” she confirmed. She pointed to George as a really great mentor who helped her learn the ropes. “He taught me a lot about products and materials, brushes and methods,” she said.
He also helped instill community connections, something vital to the success of small business. Like Townhouse, Arrow has continued to build upon strong relationships with the arts professors at both UNCW and CFCC. “We get the list of supplies the students need and put together kits for them, so when they come in, we have it all assembled in one place,” Linda explained.
It’s a telltale reminder: Money that gets spent in art supply stores comes from money that gets spent on real art, made by local artists. What a valuable community asset.