Art in the Port City


The shed in Andrea Watson O’Dell’s backyard is stocked with 14-karat gold, silver, bronze and copper. O’Dell uses a torch, pliers and a collection of other tools to turn the sheets of metal into rings, necklaces and earrings.

O’Dell is one of a handful of local artists who not only create art, but make a business out of it.

O’Dell started her company, Andrea Watson Designs, shortly after moving to Wilmington from her home state of Ohio in 2010. She relocated without lining up a job or housing in advance.

“I wouldn’t recommend doing that,” she said.

The metalsmith started her company with only a few sheets of metal, a jeweler’s saw and four pairs of pliers.

During the past five years she has collected a series of tools, such as torches, to help expand her line. One of her favorite techniques is heat patina.

“When I heat up the metal to an extreme point, it causes the metal to change color,” she said.

O’Dell often uses heat patina to give her copper pieces a vibrant red tint.

Her top-selling items are bar necklaces, which consist of a small chain and a 2-inch silver or gold horizontal bar, and stud earrings.

“I’ve been migrating toward a minimalist line,” she said. “This fall and winter, I’m going to make additional pieces that have geometric lines. I’ll have an industrial line; they’re going to be a little bit darker and a little bit rougher.”

O’Dell said inspiration comes from spending time outdoors.

“I’ve always loved the lines and detail in plants,” she said. “Anything you’d find in organic material definitely influences my work.”

Watercolor painter Mary Ellen Golden is another local artist/business owner who is influenced by nature. The North Carolina native’s painting subjects include birds and beaches, along with barns.

Golden began creating art at age 10.

Red Dragonfly, a watercolor by Mary Ellen Golden.

Red Dragonfly, a watercolor by Mary Ellen Golden.

“My father used to bend his thumb, draw around it and show me how to make a dog out of it,” she said.

Her enthusiasm for drawing quickly evolved into an affinity for painting.

“My mother made me practice the piano half an hour a day so I could have my art lessons,” she said. “Their house was full of my paintings.”

Golden moved to Wilmington in 1975 after her husband accepted a job with the Army Corps of Engineers.

“He had an interview at the Hilton downtown and I spotted the brand new Cotton Exchange,” she said.

Golden opened the Golden Gallery in the Cotton Exchange as a place to exhibit and sell her paintings and her son’s artwork, which includes photography, drawings, collages and paintings.

Golden advises anyone interested in watercolor painting to take lessons.

“Watercolor can be frustrating for people,” she said. “Studying with a teacher makes it a little easier to understand, but the desire is more important than talent.”

She also said young painters shouldn’t get too concerned with technique until they reach their teens.

“Until they are in high school, don’t teach them technique — just put music on and let them create,” she said.

Dick Heiser, owner of Pumpkin Creek Pottery, helps students create by collaborating with art teachers at New Hanover County’s E.A. Laney High School.

Supplied photo courtesy of Dick Heiser. A tea pot by Dick Heiser.

Supplied photo courtesy of Dick Heiser. A tea pot by Dick Heiser.

“Every April, they’ll make their pots and we’ll bring them up here and fire them in the wood kiln,” he said. “It’s a unique process they’ve never experienced before. Most people in town use an electric kiln. We fire with a 100-cubic-foot wood-fueled kiln. It takes us about 36 hours to fire it. We burn a stack about eight feet long, eight feet tall and four feet deep. If people have trees in the yard, we’ll go get them. It keeps them from going to the landfill.”

Heiser, who holds Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts degrees in ceramics, opened Pumpkin Creek Pottery after a lengthy career designing for Carver Yachts and other boating companies.

“I was doing clay and other art on the side, but I wasn’t selling,” he said.

In 2006, Heiser turned his 30-year hobby into a full-time job by opening a studio in Castle Hayne.

“I always wanted to be a professional in my craft and my art. Everything in my life has had something to do with craft and creativity,” he said. “The biggest challenge is the marketing part.”

Heiser’s goal is to create pottery that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

“I like to make whimsical, utilitarian things that are fun to look at and fun to hold,” he said.

His favorite items to create are mugs.

“They’re hand-created, they have an individual life and you can use them every day,” he said.

The ceramic artist also takes on commercial projects.

“I’ve got a baptismal font I’m making for a church right now,” he said.

Heiser’s work can be found in Port City Pottery and Eclipse.


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