By Melissa Goslin
No matter how many times you’ve stepped inside the doors of Cape Fear Studios, you never quite know what—or who—you’ll find inside.
On a blustery afternoon at Cape Fear Studios, Anette Szczekutek announces tea time in her thick Welsh accent. On break from her canvas, Szczekutek wanders by the other studio spaces to pass warm mugs of coffee and tea out to her fellow artists. An apron-covered Guy Jencks pokes his head out from his potter’s table, thankful for the gesture.
A little over a year ago, Jencks became a member of the studio after completing the two-part jury process. Halfway through his Air Force career, Jencks found himself searching for a way to slow down the hectic pace of his career. He found his answer in throwing pottery. Now retired, Jencks prefers his studio space to the old office where his phone was his ball and chain.
“That seems like a completely different life,” Jencks said.
Jencks took his first pottery class at FTCC many years ago before moving to Japan. Still on active duty, pottery wasn’t the most convenient of art forms, but he was able to work in the base Community Arts Centers and do what he could out of his garage. His military travels live on in each of his pieces as he blends elements of primitive pots with Asian-inspired shapes.
“The old traditional pottery—that’s just not me,” Jencks said.
He shares his studio space with two other potters, each with their own unique styles. There is a lot to be said for the camaraderie of the artists within the studio. Without imitating each other, they share in the creative process. If one person tries out a new glaze, they all get to see the finished product. As a result, the gallery is a truly organic space.
Each month, the studio gets a new look thanks to Ann Griffin, executive director of Cape Fear Studios. Every year, they hold between ten and twelve member shows plus a host of others, including an annual non-juried people’s choice show.
“We don’t want to be Fayetteville’s best kept secret,” Griffin said.
Instead, Griffin and the other artists encourage everyone to drop by and see what’s going on, whether to shop the retail space or check out the class schedule. Griffin has made an effort to become more social media savvy as part of the studio’s marketing strategy to keep people aware of what’s happening in their downtown space. However, she doesn’t think anything will ever be as powerful as word-of-mouth.
“I hope people who come into the gallery are always able to say nice things behind our backs,” Griffin said.
With Linda Sue and Curtis Barnes working the retail space at the front of the gallery, it’s hard to imagine anyone not saying good things. Both retired biology teachers, the Barneses are a husband-and-wife team. Curtis is a craftsman, his pens and ornaments displayed throughout the case he sits behind during their retail shift. Linda Sue is a jeweler and her pieces showcase her love of biology. Each wire-wrapped stone or swirl of heated metal is a study in nature. For the couple, art is a constant learning process as they pick up new materials and constantly try new techniques. Niobium is Linda Sue’s newest venture. She takes the ugly gray element and heats it with an anodizer, watching as different voltages produce varied colors. They also enjoy collaborating on kaleidoscopes. Curtis turns the main housing in wood and Linda Sue creates jewels to his inside.
As part of their membership, artists rotate in and out of the exhibit space and work a minimum number of hours at the retail counter. With the sense of camaraderie and love of art, it’s work that doesn’t feel like a job to any of them. Although they work in a wide range of mediums, the artists are all familiar with each other’s work. There are currently 33 members who have been through the jurying process. Nine in-house studio spaces are offered to members as they become available.
Griffin aims to keep the retail space stocked with interesting pieces in a range of price points. Local photography, wire-and-fabric lamp shades and unique jewelry make excellent gifts and Griffin wants the public to feel free to browse as they would in any other local shop. As an added benefit, the artists are accessible to answer questions and even commission pieces. Due to the ever-changing nature of the gallery, things are likely to move by your next visit. Luckily, Griffin’s knowledge of the artists and their work is extensive, so she can always hunt down works and put people in contact with the artists.
An educational area in the back of the building hosts an array of adult art classes throughout the week. In the summer, member artists also offer a wide range of workshops and classes for school-aged children. On the walls, a sampling of member artwork demonstrated the diversity of their roster, from acrylics and mixed media to pen-and-ink drawings splashed in watercolor. As part of their mission, Cape Fear Studios is always striving to involve, educate and enrich Cumberland County and surrounding communities with the opportunity to create and freely view art.
Since their first art show in 1991, the studio has morphed and grown to serve the needs of the community. As part of that growth, a non-juried show was added to their roster in 2015. Griffin and the others loved the result and plan to keep it around as an annual event.
“I was amazed. Not every artist is a member of Cape Fear Studios, but there are some really great artists in this area. The general public may not have an idea of the skill level involved in a certain piece, but people have a great idea of what they just plain like,” Griffin said.
Back to work after her tea break, Szczekutek stands back from the bold floral on her easel and assesses her next move. Szczekutek has been an in-house artist at Cape Fear Studios since 1993, and she loves having a dedicated space for her work.
“When I first needed studio space, I had to use whatever I had,” Szczekutek said.
Often times the work of an artist is solitary. According to Szczekutek and the other in-house artists, working in a space filled with other artists can be a game changer.
“You can get to a place where you’re stuck and another artist may come in. You can bounce ideas off each other and talk supplies and technologies,” Szczekutek said. She holds up a bag of art supplies she bought on a recent group outing to Raleigh. “You come back energized and ready to work.”
Soon, the chatter has stopped and the small sounds of artists at work echo throughout the building. There is a balance in the day that mimics the nature of art itself, maintaining the playfulness of inspiration while undertaking a serious endeavor. The air seems charged with possibility as they work, each of the artists grateful for the time and space to create something important. And, as Griffin points out, their work is an integral and significant part of the community.
“We can dig up the bones of the Neanderthals and put them back together. Until you dig up their clay pots, though, and see what they drank from, what they drew in the cave paintings—you won’t understand them,” Griffin said. “The same is true in 2016. What we have left behind will matter. We can’t ignore that.”