Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Seagreen Gallery is the fruit of Susan Evans’ dream to spend more time on the Outer Banks and to create repurposed art with her family.
By Chelsea Quattrone
If you gave Susan Evans a glass bottle instead of throwing it away, she would cut it and use it in creating a stained-glass window. If her husband, Phil, got to it first, he would cut it to make a drinking glass. In their son Will’s hands it would become a bottle brick or a lamp. Son Michael would create a candle with the bottom and use the neck in a lighted glass garland.
This family works as a team. Their creativity and wide range of skills form the perfect combination for their Nags Head business, Seagreen Gallery, which reflects the longtime Outer Banks traditions of repurposing and recycling.
Susan remembers her first visit to the Outer Banks as a child with her family in 1961: “I remember a shack of a cottage, bonfires on the beach, shooting stars, finding a whole tumbled bottle, sand dunes and hush puppies.” At age 17 she left her “delightfully Bohemian household” and returned to the Outer Banks with a friend, taking a Greyhound bus from Pittsburgh. They got a room at the Snug Harbor Boarding House and worked as maids at the Beacon Motor Lodge.
At 19 she was studying art and photography at College of the Albemarle and working at the iconic Christmas Shop and Island Art Gallery in Manteo. “I absorbed my sense of design and display from Richard Lacerre and Edward Greene, ‘the decorating kings,’” she says. They used antiques and stories artfully, she says, to make the place a destination, an experience.
At 23 she met the man she married, Phil Morgan of Gates County, while they were both working at the Seafare restaurant. He became Dr. S. Philip Morgan and eventually the director of the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill. They had three sons, Will, Sam and Michael. The family traveled for Phil’s career but always came back to the Outer Banks to spend time with their families.
During that time, theidea for Seagreen began to form. Will loved the ocean and wanted to open a store near the beach. Susan wanted to continue creating things from items that other people throw away and to find an outlet for the antiques and vintage pieces she and Phil loved to collect. They were ready to turn their hobbies into a lifestyle and searched for a small cottage shop. They soon found that a favorite old spot was for sale.
Built in 1946, the original Gray’s Department Store on the beach road in Nags Head is a spacious location with living quarters above the store. To Susan it was an opportunity to carry on the legacy of Walter and Stella Gray, who created a family business that has continued for more than 60 years. She and Morgan bought the building in 2011.
A walk around the building today is like visiting a beachcombing museum. Repurposing was a necessity in a time when the island lacked much retail and the locals had little money to spend. People made things from what was available. Seagreen continues this tradition by featuring the works of local artists like Rebeccah Rogers, who paints scenes of nature on old windows; Mike Tames, who creates colorful sea creatures from vintage housewares and farm tools; and Kim Jacoby, who makes jewelry from sea glass and whimsical fish from driftwood.
Will carries on the island tradition of salvaging building materials from the beach after storms; the wood for the fence and walkways in the backyard garden washed up during Hurricane Irene in 2011. He is the gallery manager, electrical wizard, carpenter and gardener and has become a multiskilled craftsman creating furniture and art from almost anything. A surfer, he contributes aquatic features and art installations, such as the 9-by 12-foot license plate wave that reflects his deep connection to the ocean.
Susan specializes in glass and resin. She makes mirrors and whimsical birdhouses from old glass and pottery shards that she’s tumbled; she also makes stained glass for old windows by using glass shards, bottle parts and found objects in poured resin.
Michael contributes computer skills and scented candles, curates “Susan’s house music” and makes clocks from vintage record album covers, Springsteen being a favorite. Susan has figured out a way to combine her love of music with the thrill of the hunt in antique picking; she and Phil, the official picker for the gallery, recently returned from an East Coast tour that included a Springsteen concert and yielded a truckload of maritime treasures from the Carolinas to Florida.
Susan wishes that their son Sam and his family could be a part of the team. They visit often, observing the growth as the store enters its fifth year – “every time we come I am curious to see what’s new in recycling,” he says.
“I did not anticipate how much I would enjoy working with my sons,” Susan says. “Watching them grow as artists and as people, that’s the best part.”