Ask anyone why they moved to southern Brunswick County and invariably they will say the ocean. A couple of years later ask them how they are enjoying the ocean, and they are very likely to say, “I love the ocean, but I don’t get there as much as I thought I would; I am so busy doing other things.”
Those “other things” frequently involve doing something creative and new. After decades of using the left side of the brain at work, many people have an irrepressible desire to develop the creative side of their brains. And that is exactly what Brunswick Community College’s Southport Center provides.
When Barbara McFall moved to Oak Island a few years ago, she immediately detected this trend and was delighted when she was offered the position of director of the Southport Center. Her vision was to make it a first-class learning center for artists, craftsmen and musicians. She wanted to hire experienced professionals to teach each class and buy state-of-the-art equipment for the students to use.
That was in the fall of 2015. Less than a year and a half later, the school has classes in everything from beginning guitar and pop piano to every level of pottery, painting and silversmithing. Other offerings range from recording and production to beginning quilting to stained glass. At this writing there were 18 classes with a total of 175 students. By the time you read this, there will be several new classes available for the fall semester. Director Barbara McFall welcomes suggestions for new classes as well.
McFall was the perfect choice for the director’s job. As a professor and department head at West Virginia University, she had the experience of transforming the home economics unit into the College of Art and Community Development.
I recently visited the classrooms at the Southport Center and had an unexpected experience. Each class was filled with an atmosphere of energy and excitement. Students in every class were thrilled with their progress and had high praise for their instructor. I could sense that unmistakable bond and camaraderie that develops in a classroom of people who are all dedicated to improving their skill level and helping others do the same. Here are a few of the people I met.
Andrea Carroll comes up from Calabash to teach the Pottery Wheel class on Tuesdays. She previously ran the pottery program at Leland Cultural Arts Center and is now the instructor at both BCC Southport and Sunset River Marketplace.
Her student Judy Steffens said, “We like this class because every time we come she teaches us something new, a new technique.” Pointing to another student, Rosemary Weiss, Steffens said, “She’s a real professional. Her pottery is perfect.” But Weiss was quick to deny Steffens’ high compliment. “No, I don’t do perfect,” Weiss said. “You want perfect, go to Walmart.” But she did admit to selling her work at the Kd Morris Art Gallery and Wine Shop in Holden Beach.
My next stop was Barbara Bennett’s Advanced Silversmithing class. Bennett is a well-known jewelry designer and silversmith. She has been teaching for several years and sells her work at Ricky Evans Art Gallery in Southport and Cameron Arts Museum and Eclipse Art Gallery in Wilmington.
Her student Sue Singerline said it is the best class she has ever taken. “She shows us little tips to make things easier,” she said. Singerline’s goal is to build up her inventory so she can sell her work at a farmers market this summer. “The class has become like a sisterhood,” she said. “We have a lot of fun and always go out for lunch together.”
Claudia Goss Dyar is a procurement specialist at Duke Energy and she has some flexibility in her schedule, so she takes off every Tuesday from 1 to 3 pm to teach a beginner’s class in stained glass. The students learn both leading and copper foiling. Student Cindy Schachte said eventually she hopes to do a glass mosaic from a pattern that she designed. In describing her feelings about the class, another student, Debra Costello, said, “I am connecting with my inner child. It’s going to be my new meditation.”
Professional recording artist Jamie Hoover has been producing, recording and teaching music since his high school days in Charlotte. He teaches a class in recording and reproduction and advises his students on what equipment to buy, how to set it up and how to use the software (Cubase) to get the best results. When I asked one of his students if he felt that he was now ready to record on his own, he said, “I think so, but I’ll have Jamie’s phone number pasted on my wall.”
Watercolorist Rusty Hughes is a Southport legend in his own time. He has been teaching painting for 47 years and has had some students for as long as 18 to 20 years. One of his newer students was trying her hand at a still life of grapes, oranges and a green apple and was thrilled with her progress. “I was going to eat the apple,” she said, “but I decided I needed it in the picture, so I guess I’ll have an orange instead.”
Kimberly Caroon is another well-known name in the Southport area. She has been a professional potter and teacher for 25 years and is delighted to have her nice big room at the Education Center with one entire wall of windows to give the class plenty of light. She teaches several classes from beginners to advanced.
Sharon Vinciguerra has been a student of Caroon’s for 12 years and is arguably the potter with the most distinctive style in southeast North Carolina. Her work is whimsical and humorous and often packs a message. The day I visited Caroon’s class, a near mishap took place, but the story turned to have a happy ending.
Caroon’s students were crowded around the kiln while the newly fired pieces were taken out one by one. When Caroon came to Vinciguerra’s bee-themed piece, there is a universal groan in the room. The bee had been fused to a vase, which would seem to make them both headed for the discard pile. But their resourceful teacher had other plans.
After considering a number of options, Caroon decided to pry the pieces apart using a screwdriver. She found exactly the right spot with the screwdriver and skillfully popped the two pieces apart, saving both of them. And that was a very good thing for Vinciguerra’s “Bartholomew the Bee” because unbeknownst to either of them at the time, that piece would soon be in very high demand.
Later that day Gibby Wilson was at a party when someone told the story about the saving of “Bartholomew the Bee.” Bartholomew is about 1 foot in length and probably 18 inches high from his two feet to the top of his wings. In his belly there is a woman behind bars screaming to get out. The plaque on his stand reads, “Bartholomew took revenge on all humans and their insect-killing devices.” Wilson heard that and excitedly announced that she had to have that piece. “My son James is getting his Ph.D in bees next week and this will be the perfect gift,” she said. She was waiting at Franklin Square Gallery door in Southport when they opened the next day and ambushed Vinciguerra as soon as she walked in.
After buying Bartholomew, Wilson asked Vinciguerra if she would happen to have a piece of pottery with bed bugs. Her daughter-in-law has a master’s degree in bed bugs, she said, and then her son and his wife could have matching sculptures to represent their respective specialties. Vinciguerra got to work creating a bed bug piece in her ever-so-imaginative head.
Such is a life in the day of an artist, and it all started at the Southport Center.
Want to take a class?
Brunswick Community College Southport Center
704 N. Lord Street, Southport
A class schedule is available in BCC’s Choices brochure, which is mailed to residents.