Creating an Arts Community
Lifelong artist Ginny Lassiter is living her dream at Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash.
Virginia Lassiter — everyone calls her Ginny — has always had great interest in art.
“Even as a child I took some art classes on my own not associated with school,” says the Wilson, North Carolina, native. “Every job I’ve ever had has been art-related.”
Lassiter sits, hands clasped around her knees, surrounded by works of art at Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash, the business she opened 20 years ago. Her voice is soft, just above a whisper, but it increases to greet customers and exchange a few words as they pass to inspect the wide variety of items on display.
Her colorful scarf highlights the sterling silver necklace she’s wearing from Nan Bedick’s collection. Her own selection of abstract acrylics hangs nearby.
“I only work in acrylics because that medium is versatile,” she says. “It dries quicker and is more gratifying. I have to get it done quickly. My time doesn’t allow me to wait for oils to dry.”
What does Lassiter want people to know about her? “I’m very family oriented.” She explains that she is leaving that afternoon to visit her 96-year-old father and her sister in Wilson.
“She’s sentimental,” adds Dariel Bendin, publicity director at Sunset River Marketplace.
“I care so much for my employees and my staff,” Lassiter says, trying to control her welling tears. “They are very good people. It’s a family. People who come in here with issues are embraced with kindness and compassion.”
She tells how a man came to take pottery lessons after his wife died: “This gallery saved his life.”
More recently Lassiter saw a woman crying at the “Prayers for Ukraine” sunflower display and went to comfort her. “Her family is Ukrainian,” Lassiter says. “I feel that what we do is a service in a lot of ways that help make a difference in someone’s life.”
When she and her husband, Joe, bought the former furniture store, Lassiter envisioned Sunset River Marketplace as an art studio where artists would work to develop their craft. As a potter, she had a space reserved for her pottery wheel and clay so she could continue creating pieces. She had easels, canvases, oils and acrylics when the spirit moved her to use those media.
After giving a presentation to the Waterway Art Association, she discovered that the area art community didn’t need a studio. They wanted a venue to display their work. She adapted to the concept and invited artists to choose which items they wanted to hang and where they wanted to display them in the vast 10,000-square-foot building. This attracted customers and others in the creative arts. Potter Jane Truesdale offered to teach pottery classes. Louis Aliotta does custom framing.
Artists working with leather, wood, fiber and jewelry approached Lassiter for consignment space. She accepted their proposals and believed customers would be interested in these artistic endeavors. Baskets, scarves, hand-crafted furniture, pillows, stained glass and purses grace the tables and walls at Sunset River Marketplace. Lassiter’s son, Scott Summerfield, who has a glass-blowing studio in Bakersville, North Carolina, has pieces displayed near Lassiter’s paintings.
Watercolor, collage, pastel, oil, mixed media and acrylics have their place at SRMP. The one limitation is that the gallery only shows North Carolina and South Carolina artists.
“That was the concept from the beginning,” Lassiter says. “There are so many Carolinians who are such good artists that I had to cut it somewhere.”
How does Lassiter describe her business? “It is a community for artists and art lovers,” she says.
“It’s a hub,” Bendin adds. “I like how much [Ginny and Joe] do for Hospice, the arts council and other [nonprofits].” She explains that the Ukraine exhibit that artist Vicki Neilon suggested has raised more than $8,000.
Customers mingle around various displays, and voices indicate that it’s an active place.
“I love the fact that they are local artisans,” says customer Sue Smith of Ocean Isle Beach. She explains that her mother-in-law found the perfect carved bird she wanted for her mantle. “She took it on the plane with her back to Colorado.”
Sue Baird has worked at Sunset River Marketplace for three years. “I love everything about working here,” she says. “It’s such a nice place because it’s easy to be happy working in an art gallery. The music and the art create a beautiful environment for customers.”
“We have fun here,” Lassiter says. “It’s just a blessing. We do what we feel is the good and right thing to do. We try to keep fresh art here. We try to do the things that keep the interest of the community, like jazz night.” (Jazz night is the third Thursday of the month.)
“Where else in this area are we going to find a gallery like this that is so welcoming to people that encourages people to come in and enjoy the art?” Bendin says. “It’s just a rare place. It’s an experience for people to come here. It’s so eclectic. I can’t imagine the area without this gallery.”
What’s in Lassiter’s future? “I like to continue to be creative,” she says.
Want to go?
Sunset River Marketplace
10283 Beach Drive, Calabash
Open Monday to Saturday 11 am to 5 pm; closed Sunday
Scheduled events are listed at:
You must be logged in to post a comment.