Rodanthe couple finds joy in art, each other

Rodanthe artists Claire Jacobs and Richard Byrd in their art-filled home.

Partners in life for 18 years, Claire Jacobs and Richard Byrd are Rodanthe artists who find inspiration in the raw environment and close-knit community. Painting is a meditative act that brings joy to both artists and, they hope, a smile to the faces of those viewing their light-hearted art. Think island style, graphic, and bold yellow, red, green, and blue for Byrd’s work, and coastal patterns using cool blues, purples, and greens for Jacobs’ art.

While Jacobs, 49, and Byrd, 64, each pay homage to the island in their art, they employ differing skills.

He is a fine draftsman who is most comfortable using paint pens and colored pencils to create his vibrant suns, waves, trees and skies.

She excels using paint and brush to create meticulous patterns of interlocking fish. Both artists are self-taught, with Jacobs coming into the field more recently than Byrd, who has a long history of sign and surfboard design work and painting on the island. He also created the logo for the Rodanthe Surf Shop, where he works.

Jacobs came to the arts through Byrd, who was working on a mural at Mama Kwan’s Tiki Bar and Grill in Kill Devil Hills. He enlisted her help to fill in some areas he sketched out.

“When we first met, he was just starting to transform Mama Kwan’s,” Jacobs says. “I was, ‘How cool is that.’ It just made me happy watching his hand making colors and designs.”

At home, sitting at their kitchen table, Byrd gave Jacobs his paint pens to play with. “Then she got obsessed,” Byrd says.

“It just felt so good,” she says. She moved from paint pens to paints and brushes because she liked the color choices better. Soon canvases and paper were filled with her puzzle-like designs. Jacobs eventually picked up sign painting and mural work.

The couple each did a mural in the bathhouses at the campgrounds in Buxton. The skate park wall in Rodanthe was a joint mural endeavor. Both artists also have done T-shirt designs for local businesses.

Byrd came to live on the island in 1997, but had been surfing here since the ‘70s. He spent 20 years creating surfboard designs locally and in California.

“I was always doing art when I was little,” says the Rocky Mount native. “I got serious in Rodanthe. I was constantly making signs.”

Jacobs, who has been on the island since 1994, says, “You couldn’t go through any of the villages without seeing his signs.” says She came to Hatteras Island on holiday from England and got a job in a surf shop. Before venturing into art, she held various service jobs. But she does remember an early experience with art — drawing on her school desk and getting in trouble for it. “Now she paints on doors at home and boxes and shelves, anything you can paint on,” Byrd says.

The kitchen table is the prime spot where creativity happens in their household. It is covered with art supplies but also with beach rocks.

Byrd paints designs on the rocks, including bird and tiki heads. He has trays of finished rocks in the kitchen, and some have had magnets attached to them to stick to the refrigerator.

“These rocks are pure escapism,” Byrd says of the colorful collection. The magnet rocks will be on sale this year at the Rodanthe Surf Shop. But it’s not unusual for family and friends to choose one when visiting the couple because giving them away is Byrd’s favorite part of the process.

“I’m kind of attached to them,” he says. “I have mixed feelings selling them. They are like my puppies or something.”

Like Byrd and his rocks, Jacobs also has a creative hobby she does simply for personal pleasure: taking action photographs at the skate park.

She was attracted to the “killer backdrop sky” and “seeing and feeling the excitement. I gave them to the kids,” she says. “It’s something to keep my mind occupied.”

She has been encouraged to sell the photographs.

Jacobs’ and Byrd’s smile-producing work is, thankfully, for sale at Waves Market — and they do take commission work.

While the couple is laid back about art, in the end, their meditative pieces bring a slice of Hatteras Island to the beholder — a sense of calm, beauty, and dynamism. Their charitable spirits continue to feed the close-knit community they love.

For custom commissions, call (252) 987-2412.

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.


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