A few years back, Deb Halahurich haunted art shows in search of creative folk. She was on a mission. The Kill Devil Hills entrepreneur was opening an art gallery and needed artists to show their works. “Everyone thought I was the crazy lady with the flyer in hand,” Halahurich says.
About two-and-a-half years ago, she and business partner, Robert Privott, opened Absolutely Outer Banks with just eight artists. Now, celebrating their its summer, the shop has approximately 80 local folk showcasing work in the Nags Head gallery. The duo opened a second gallery of the same name in Duck about a year ago.
Privott takes care of the creative end of the business, Halahurich says. He tends to the interior design of the gallery that is appointed with vintage furniture he paints featuring a distressed look washed with mostly sea colors. The furniture plays double duty as displays for the art, but it also is for sale. This includes wooden side tables, cupboards, bookshelves, hutches, mirrors and bed frames. Their shades of aqua, blue and coral lend a seaside feel to the venue that is jam packed with two- and three-dimensional art — all odes to the coast.
Walls are covered in beachy signs and imagery painted on wood such as mermaids and sea life. Colored glass and shells embedded in an antique cottage window show off the creativity and emphasis of re-purposing that is seen throughout the shop. Blowfish ornaments are handcrafted from plastic bottles. License plates are cut up and reassembled to form signs. Gourds sport painted mermaids, octopus and fish.
Strings of hand-painted and striped buoys speak to the area’s fishing roots. Hand-painted glasses are at the ready for relaxing with a summery drink. Fish created from seashells or metal bottle caps make for great reminders of a vacation stay. Matted or framed images of sea stars, waterfowl, kayaks, sand fences, waves, wind surfers, sea horses and charter boats all nod to the history and culture of the Outer Banks.
There are several unique finds to discover at Absolutely Outer Banks from a loosely laid brick floor that wiggles when walked upon to a co-owner who runs the business in a non-traditional way.
“We’re not a consignment, we’re an artists’ co-op, so we take a much smaller percentage than anyone on the beach,” she says. “Our goal was not to make money but to give us a place to show our art, as well as other artists.”
The cooperative part is also non-traditional as the artists do not have to work in the shop, “because they are busy.”
The gallery is full in terms of space available for additional artists, but if the right work shows itself and is unique, Halahurich is ready to remove her own work to make room. She creates hand-stamped jewelry, “and I paint Christmas ornaments with beachy designs and some large wooden cutouts with mermaids and such,” she said.
A Pennsylvania transplant, Halahurich vacationed on the Outer Banks with a college friend and fell in love with the area. When it was time for something new, she relocated to the beach. “Who doesn’t love the Outer Banks,” she says. “I had no idea there were so many artists; that it was an artist Mecca down here. It was a nice surprise.”
Halahurich came to the arts through crocheting, knitting and cross stitching. She then took a class on decorative painting, and “That was it. I was hooked. It’s my stress reliever.”
She calls her art silly, not high art, but she accepts exactly where she’s at creatively speaking. “Everybody has a talent, and you can use that talent to the best of your ability, and that’s what you do,” she says. “I started from zero, and I just practiced and practiced and practiced. Mine was a labor of love.”
As is Absolutely Outer Banks, filled with creative endeavors by creative folk.
Mary Ellen Riddle has been writing the Coast’s art column for more than 20 years and brings to her work a BFA in painting from East Carolina University and a profound passion for the role the arts play in society.