New Name, New Owner, Same Services
Sunset River Gallery in Calabash, formerly Sunset River Marketplace, held a grand re-opening ceremony with new owner Larry Johnson on January 12.
“I’ve been hunting for an art gallery and have amassed this ‘ridiculous’ collection of art that I wanted a home for,” said Larry Johnson, new owner of Sunset River Gallery in Calabash as he spread the giant scissors for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the grand re-opening of the gallery on January 12. Sunset River staff, Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce members and dozens of residents gather for the event.
He praised former owner Ginny Lassiter for establishing a connection to the community and added, “Some of the greatest artists are represented in this gallery, and we are going to continue to be that gallery.”
Artistic director Samantha Spalti said, “It’s a priority of mine to make sure people know they are welcome here, and we still want to be involved with the community and the community involved with us.”
The gallery only displays art by North Carolina and South Carolina artists. Items are available in a wide variety of media from paintings, ceramics, pottery, sculpture, jewelry, fabrics, baskets, glassware and more.
Chamber membership chair Paige Lippard encouraged people to explore the gallery’s 10,000 square feet, and chamber board member Suzanne Lewis said, “This is awesome. Every time I turn around there is more.”
Johnson, who owns several businesses including SignArt (signartsigns.com) in Charlotte, is an entrepreneur who earned a degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in fine arts from Purdue University.
He peppered his remarks with self-effacing comments such as, “I graduated not knowing what an engineer was.” About his business in Charlotte, “That company is run by someone who does a way better job than I could ever do. All I would do is make it worse.”
Johnson lived in Oklahoma City until he was in junior high, when his family moved to Floyds Knobs, Indiana. His primary interest was art.
“I was drawing all the time,” he said, but “Engineering happened to me instead of me pursuing it.” He took jobs in that arena as a way of supporting himself, but he began buying and selling rare wristwatches and jewelry at auctions around the world including Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Then fine art became his obsession, and he put all his efforts studying it.
“I’m a ‘collecta-sorus,’” he said. “The combination of fine art and my desire to collect and be a buyer is a great match and a huge challenge.”
Eventually, an engineering job took him to Washington, D.C., where he met his wife, Roseann, an attorney with the Internal Revenue Service. The couple live in Bethesda, Maryland, and have five grown children, including two sets of twins.
Johnson, 62, hired Spalti as the artistic director to continue Lassiter’s work.
“I’m here to make sure this gallery stays as much of the same gallery that it used to be,” she said. “That’s my job: to keep the community spirit alive.”
She explained that the same artists continue to display their works and she added about eight more. She emphasized that pottery and art classes, Jazz Night, Coffee with the Author and Holiday Market will continue.
Spalti earned a degree in art and art history at University of Albany in New York. She came to the Grand Strand to be with her father and was manager of a plasma donation center. When she saw the ad for the opening at the gallery, she knew it was her chance to use her training that “I spent a lot of money and a lot of time earning,” she said.
Wilmington artist Betsy Parker, who has a selection of pottery items displayed, many with cat faces, said she began showing at the gallery when it opened in 2002. “I’ve always been around animals,” she said. “I love the way cats move, and I love their personalities.”
Jeanne Pratt of Murrells Inlet and Ellen Stoddard of Little River inspected several of Parker’s pieces. “I like blue,” Pratt said as she indicated one dish. “I have four cats.”
Chamber board member Timothy Randall said he enjoys seeing the art, but he learned something new. “I didn’t know they do framing,” he said. Framing expert Lou Aliotta provides his expertise Wednesdays through Fridays.
Johnson has dedicated two rooms at the back of the gallery to his own collection of 20th century artists at high-end prices. Among the artists are oils by Wolf Kahn, Ed Mell and Angel Botello and a 200-pound bronze sculpture by Glenna Goodacre.
“Why can’t we have 20th century modern and contemporary work, and then extremely affordable work from good artists?” Johnson said. “I knew I wanted to buy a gallery. I had an art collection that needed a gallery. As soon as this gallery came up, I pounced. This is the most enjoyable start into a business that I’ve ever had.”
Want to go?
Sunset River Gallery
10283 Beach Drive, Calabash
Open Monday through Saturday 11 am to 5 p
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