Elevator shafts are, well, elevator shafts. Not much to say about them, except they help you get where you want to go. But if you have the opportunity to travel through a shaft hand painted by Scheryl Gray, you are in for a coastal experience.
The Nags Head artist was approached by the late builder Steve Davenport and asked to paint an underwater scene in the shaft of what would hold a glass elevator in one of his homes. The first one Gray painted featured a pirate and sharks.
“It took 14 days,” Gray said about the job.
Before the elevator was installed, but using its hardware, a platform was rigged with a toggle switch allowing Gray to move from floor to floor to paint the shaft's drywall. She went on to do two more elevator projects that featured schools of fish, mermaids, King Neptune, sea gulls and the Wright brothers.
“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Gray said of the time-consuming project. “But I’m always game.”
Being game is easy to believe once you view Gray’s resume, which includes deputy sheriff, cosmetologist, real estate agent, and running a cleaning business. But art, says Gray, 61, takes first place today.
The inkling to be an artist came as a child.
“I had a first-grade teacher who got really excited over a water (color) picture I painted that included swimming ducks,” Gray said. “I thought I was just doing something ordinary. The teacher just paraded it all over the class. It made me think I’m a born artist.”
Gray describes herself as coming from humble backgrounds and did not attend college. She had artist friends that she considered incredibly talented.
“I felt like I wasn’t really that good,” she said.
She had an unusual glimpse into her artistic future, however. Gray was walking home from work, she said, and she met a crafter along the way who was selling jewelry. The woman shared a startling prediction with Gray, who was just a teen at the time.
“I’m a psychic,” Gray remembered the woman said. “When you get older, you are going to marry a man who loves you so much, and you are going to have art surrounding you.”
Gray’s not sure how she feels about prescience, but she realized the prediction. She married Wayne Gray, who she called her soul mate, and the two have been together for almost 30 years.
“If not for him,” she said, “I wouldn’t have had the freedom to pursue my dreams of becoming an artist.”
And, for someone to say that Gray is surrounded by art would be an understatement. Just as eclectic as her resume is the kind of art she creates. She enjoys doing pet and people portraits and paints on ornaments. Murals are another specialty. She once painted a pool surround of nothing but mermaids swimming together.
Gray also painted a mural featuring five Dare County sheriffs standing in front of the courthouse that is found inside the sheriff’s department. She also created the designs for a line of whimsical stickers geared toward women who fish and sells them locally with her business partner, Kelley Bergenstock.
As a self-taught artist, Gray has been gleaning techniques as far back as childhood.
“As a young child watching an architecture drawing show on a black-and-white TV, I remember being intrigued by shadowing while watching this show,” she said.
Gray also grew up around creative people. Her father handcrafted musical instruments, and her Aunt Elizabeth was an accomplished commercial seamstress.
Gray learned about color by studying the paintings of the High Renaissance, Italian artist Raphael, who employed a rich palette using most of the available pigments of the time.
“The teals and blues, and greens, they are so breathtaking,” Gray said. “They grab you so. This is how I taught myself to paint. In my mind you must understand color theory before you can make a painting happen.”
Gray works with a variety of mediums, such as acrylics, pencils and watercolors. The lover of nature creates her images from life, memory, photos, imagination and sketches. She says that painting makes her feel excited, relaxed and sometimes frightened at the same time.
“When you are painting a portrait of a deceased pet or child, intimidation builds up,” she said. “Or when you start a huge mural, it can be intimidating. But I just talk my way through it. After all, it is just paint, right?”