By Mary Ellen Riddle/Correspondent
Fay Davis Edwards, a Manteo native, is a practicing artist with a strong interest in the environment. Her studio partner and lifelong friend is Donna Mae Morrisette, who calls herself more a maker than an artist. Like Edwards, Morrisette is all about flowers.
“I was always excited when the jonquils started blooming,” she says looking back on her childhood in Stumpy Point
Together, they are offering an eclectic mix of art, flowers and classes at their Water Street Studio in downtown Manteo. Their mission aims to unleash creativity, preserve the environment and provide a safe space to bring people from all walks of life together.
The 52-year-old women have known each other since fifth grade, and their roots in the area run deep. The studio name is a nod to the past as it is located a stone’s throw from the water on Queen Elizabeth Avenue that once was called Water Street.
Their environment is welcoming with rustic double doors at the front and back of the studio that open to the fresh air and a “haint” blue ceiling overhead — the Gullah Geechee culture used this color as a form of protection to keep away haints, or spirits of the dead. The vibes already are seasoned as the studio first represented a working studio where Edwards created large scale paintings, projections and installations needed for grad school. Add in the lifelong buddies’ joie de vivre and you have a refreshing wonderland filled with beauty, culture and inspiration.
Visitors to the gallery and workshop can buy flowers, art and organic tinctures — Bellemae Apothecarial potions made from Morrisette’s own recipes. They also can be active participants by taking lessons in watercolor, acrylic and encaustic painting, collage and recycled paperfolding and zine (book) making taught by Edwards, whose own fine art paintings and multimedia art focus on social commentary, environmental protection and her love of crows.
Morrissette has always been surrounded by flowers and has a natural flare for arranging them. Her work has graced multiple weddings. At Water Street Studio, visitors can make flower arrangements from the cuttings in the galvanized maple syrup buckets that line the working part of the studio.
She envisions people entering the gallery and picking up a gathering basket, as if in a field. Next, they choose stems from the buckets. The concentration will be on flowers with big heads, and Morrisette can identify them for the guests. They head to the workstation, glimpsing the small paintings of crows dotting the walls.
“We will help them with designs, color matching, composition — all basic design skills,” Edwards says, applying her experience of working with multiple art degrees.
While helping folks with their arrangements, the women envision memories of their hometown flowing freely with their guests and will include stories of Morrisette’s granny’s jonquils and Edwards’ childhood friendship with a crow.
With an eagle eye on protecting the earth, there will be no synthetic materials used in the arrangements. The duo is collecting bottles from three local businesses to use as vases and cut down on landfill waste. The women cut off the bottle necks to enlarge the openings. A repurposed Crown Royal bottle, filled with a spray of fresh flowers, sits in the middle of a table where the women excitedly chat about their joint venture. The clear container no longer resembles a liquor bottle but an objet d’art.
The recycling part of their venture is not to be trendy, the women say, but to do what is close to their hearts. Their altruism also includes offering Free Art Fridays from noon to 4 p.m. during the summer. Folks can come in and do a quick activity, such as making a folded paper book or box or creating a print.
“I think it’s important to share making techniques and knowledge,” Edwards says. “Create a safe space for members of all communities to come and create and be themselves and have dialogue and share stories.
Water Street Studio, Queen Elizabeth St., Manteo, 252-473-0409, email@example.com, Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.