Tens of thousands of visitors descend on South County for its warmest months (who can resist sipping a Del’s in the warm salty breeze by the ocean’s edge?), but insiders know it’s the cozy season when this corner of the world feels like a slice of Americana at its most savory. And while the sunbathers have disappeared and the lifeguard stands are tucked away for their long winter’s nap, the inspiration of coastal New England enclave reverberates, especially in the region’s artist, artisan, and creative community.
Shop owner and metalsmith Martha Andrew, better known as MarMar – the nickname shared by her eponymous artisan-driven boutique – has burrowed into the community since arriving in Wakefield a year ago, the week before Christmas. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind,” she concedes. Andrew also has a new seasonal shop on Block Island, so she's no stranger to setting up her bench and getting to work, but this inaugural year on the mainland has been one of firsts. The boutique space on Main Street, just about a block north of the busiest commercial cluster, is stocked with a diverse collection of jewelry not only by Andrew but from artists coast to coast, many of whom were her classmates. “I did a post-baccalaureate program at University of the Arts in Philly – it was a two-year program – after getting my English degree and I decided I wanted to go back to school for metalsmithing. My dad said, ‘That's great. You're paying for it,’” she says with a laugh. Today, Andrew is able to take her former fellow classmates’ work on consignment and introduce them to customers in South County, New Shoreham, and beyond.
“It's really special that I'm able to connect people with these artists who they would never find because I don't carry typical jewelry. I like carrying things that are a little bit different from the mainstream,” says Andrew. The handbags, candles, perfumes made in Newport, ceramic jewelry holders by a local potter, and other finds in the shop are also chosen for their uniqueness.
“For the most part, I personally have every single artist’s number in my phone. I've either carried them for a long time, or I went to school with them, or I just know them from the artist community in Rhode Island,” explains Andrew. “I think that the aspect of the connection between the customer and the artist is so much more of a personal experience rather than just buying something that has been mass produced. I really love sharing work, and, you know, this isn't stuff that they're gonna find anywhere.”
Like millions of people around the world, the pandemic forced Nancy Reid Carr, a self-employed artist for 15 years, to reevaluate. She had participated in art festivals and wholesale trade shows around the country but found her post-pandemic stride consulting a brick-and-mortar shop, which inspired her to open one of her own. “Curating the store and doing all of the visual merchandising, it was kind of that extra creative element that I had been seeking,” says Carr.
Honey Gallery in North Kingstown opened early in the summer of 2022, and hit the ground running. “I feel like I got a huge warm welcome from the community. I knew a lot of people, but I also have obviously met a lot of people since I opened — a lot of artists right in the area that I did not know about,” she says. “I think people are really happy to have something at this end of town that is supporting the local economy, and you can find really unique gifts.” Carr estimates more than 60 percent of the artists represented at Honey Gallery are Rhode Island-based. Examples include wooden charcuterie boards by Eric Carter, illustrated prints by SepiaLepus, jewelry by metalsmith Deb Terilli, Simply Serasi minimalist jewelry by Rosa Czarnomski, hand-printed silkscreen art by James Polisky, pieces by photographer Paul Davis, and made right in North Kingstown, slate charcuterie boards by CharBella Designs.
An artist at heart, Honey Gallery also functions as a studio space for Carr, who makes her jewelry on site and ships it to clients and retailers nationwide. “Having the store enabled me to open up a different creative avenue for myself while also supporting local artists in the process.”
An optometrist by trade, Didem Kokturk got to a point where she couldn’t ignore the artist inside of her any longer. “I practiced for almost 20 years before I kind of felt like there was no creativity in my life,” she admits. So she indulged her inner calling, experimenting with myriad mediums before she found, perhaps, where she was always meant to be. “The minute I walked into an oil painting studio, there was something about the smell, the look of the paints. I was like, ‘Okay, I know this is what I want to do.’” Self-taught, Kokturk painted at any opportunity, and seven years ago, her husband encouraged her to paint full time.
When she was approached by Harbor View Artisans in Wickford, an artists cooperative, she became a member and found her people. Today, nearly 30 artists comprise the co-op, which enjoys an apropos picturesque shop just steps from the tranquil harbor. “It has grown to be such a wonderful co-op,” says Kokturk. “I really feel like it's a very special place with all the artists that are there. The community we formed with the repeat customers that we have, it's really a very unique setup.” The artists own and operate the store, taking turns at the helm (but all ensure the dog treat station out front remains stocked) and Kokturk says the arrangement allows for the community to get to know each of them – and vice versa. “We kind of just adopted Wickford, and Wickford has adopted us,” she explains.
While each artist’s work is unique at Harbor View Artisans – from seashell jewelry and decor from MermaidsBaubles by Melonie Massa and completely unique see-it-to-believe-it laser-engraved saw blade art by Laser Foto Worx to practical pieces, like microwave bowl cozies by K Bellotti Designs – the Lil’ Rhody inspiration is palpable.
For Kokturk, there’s no better place to create. “I cannot be living in a better state. The Ocean State is inspiring. The wildlife, the birds on the beach, the gorgeous beaches, the boats — all of the wonderful seascapes that we have, it's very inspiring.” Kokturk is thankful she listened to that creative voice inside her, which she just couldn’t silence.
A handful of the many other businesses specializing in local and handmade across the area
Conanicut Gift Shop
Fayerweather Craft Guild
Fuller Art and Frame Gallery
Green River Silver Co.
Wickford & Providence
Heritage Gifts & Glass Studio
Low Tide Jewelry
OMO Jewels & Gifts
Purple Cow Co.
Many people have an inner artist just begging to come out and South County is an ideal place to indulge in a range of mediums. Roll up your sleeves at Rebekah Cook Art and Paint Your Own Pottery Studio in Wakefield, or complete a piece of art (while digitally detoxing) at nearly any age in Narragansett’s Create Color Art Studio. South Kingstown’s Access to Art programs include monoprinting and collaging with found objects and, this time of year, ornament-making and a clay gingerbread house workshop. Then there’s the South County Art Association, offering more than 100 classes per year in pottery, painting, drawing, mixed media, photography, and printmaking for all levels. For even more ideas, visit SouthCountyTourism.com
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