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Article and photos by Anne Jenkins

 A group of seven artists in the rural Sussex County of South Eastern Delaware got together in1995 to try and promote their burgeoning art community. They chose to launch the SE Delaware Artists Studio Tour on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving because, ‘no one did anything during the Thanksgiving weekend back then,‘ remembers one the pioneers. Now, eighteen years later, it’s a popular annual tradition and attracts enthusiastic large crowds. 

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Master woodturner Tom Frey demonstrates his skill in his studio Dsplay of delicate bird house Christmas tree decorations from Tom Frey

A number of the core artists are still leading the charge, new artists join, old ones leave but a solid 12+ studios open each year and in 2012 they introduced a guest artist in to the mix. Appropriately the first guest artist was Sonja Frey, the daughter of one of the original seven, master wood turner, Tom Frey. 

Not only do you get to find good art to buy, you also get to drive through peaceful rural countryside to out of the way studios. Visiting an artist’s studio in their home is a very different experience to visiting a gallery. You get to see how the artists live, their surroundings, their pets, their families. You get the feeling you are really getting to know the individual, not just the artist, regardless how much time of you spend with them. 

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Kim Doughty works clay on the wheel, the multi-talented artist also makes delicate jewelry. Glass artist Justin Cavagnaro works behind a row of his colorful glass

golf putters

The group runs the tour with great efficiency, and their experience shows with organized touches - like each studio has helpers standing by to assist the artist and directional signs are posted at the appropriate intersections. They maintain a website and they put out a clear map on the website and a brochure with very easy, clear directions to each studio which really help to make it relaxing and fun.  

I recommend you look through the map and at each artist’s website linked through the group site. Then list the artists you’d be most interested in visiting and see how it works on the map. Reason I recommend this approach is if you only have one day, 12+ studios is lot to get to do in that time frame. If you’re planning on spending both days touring still choose the ones you are most interested in seeing first - life has a habit of getting in the way. It can be frustrating if plans change. 

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Guest artist Sonja Frey (L) interacts with a visitor during the SE DE Art Studio Tour Large crowds swirl though the studio of Cavagnaro and Doughty  during the SE DE art studio tour

I started out in the country and worked my way down to the beach area with the first visit being to the Frey Studios. Tom Frey is a highly regarded wood turner with awards and accolades a-plenty. And without doubt, they are justified. His work is superb. It is delicate and breath-taking. I could only marvel at how thin-walled and elegant his bowls were and then I saw his miniatures. It is inconceivable to us onlookers something so tiny and perfectly formed could be created by hand from a large chunk of wood on large machines or tools. This amazement is reinforced when he demonstrates his talent in his machine room with said large chunks of wood lying around. 

His daughter Sonja, an abstract collage artist, was excited to be participating for the first time. Her work is textured, colorful and intriguing. Surrounded by her vivid art and a font of knowledge about collage, Frey enjoyed lively discussions about her techniques with visitors. 

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Ellen Rice's gallery is the only commercial gallery on the SE DE Art Studio Tour Mother Nature show off with an arty display of fall color

The joint studio of husband/wife artists team of Justin Cavagnaro and Kim Doughty was a hive of activity. Both artists - he is a glass artist and she does pottery and delicate silver jewelry - were demonstrating which always attracts people. It is super interesting to watch an artist at work in the studio, the visual is so much clearer than a description. Cavagnaro has a line of golf putter made in glass - bright strong colors no less - which he claims works perfectly. 

Ellen Rice is an established, renown artist and she runs the only commercial gallery on the tour but she paints at her studio. Her work is mostly large scale and it would be impractical to combine the gallery and studio. In 1994 Rice drew, painted and published a historical map of the “Treasure Beaches of the Mid-Atlantic.” The map and a companion piece, Treasure Legends of the Mid-Atlantic, attracted much national media attention. It remains a hot seller to this day. The gallery is a small well organized space filled with her, and guest artists, work. 

A drive in to a private community takes you to Laura Hickman’s art-filled studio in her home. A regionally well-known artist, Hickman works mostly in pastels and oils creating landscapes and scenes from her travels which she describes as “lightscapes.” Easily recognizable scenes of Europe, or a delightful vignette of a cat sniffing a vase of flowers, line the walls waiting to be admired by her large devoted following. 

In an older neighborhood, Jennifer Carter has a little studio in her back yard. It’s homey and comfortable and Carter’s bubbly personality shines through. Her artist statement states “Life throws you curves … so use them!” Her sketches are funny, serious and self-depreciating. We had a good giggle together over the new blog she’s trying to get started…titled Pudgy Beach Girl with her logo of said beach babe of a certain age clad in a bikini and holding a martini glass. 

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Some of the Series II Beach Birds works in progress in Tara Funk Grim's studio Pastel artist Laura Hickman's work station with two works in progress

My last stop was to the studio of well-established artist, Tara Funk Grim. The studio is alongside a peaceful canal set back from the beach road, a delightful location. I always find facing water to be inspirational and calming. Her work draws you in with joy, exploration and reflection regardless of whether it’s a garden of flowers or the charming beach bird series. One of the pioneers of the studio tour, Grim is professional but easy to talk to, especially about her art. A devoted group of followers arrived while I was there leading to a lively discussion. It was a good place to end the tour. 

I didn’t visit all the studios but enjoyed the pace I set very much. It made for a relaxing drive in the country, discovering some intriguing art and meeting new artists and art lovers. The original group of seven back in 1995 certainly started a beautiful thing - it’s good to see an art tour flower in to a beloved tradition and remain strong. 

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SEDAST6. Large crowds swirl though the studio of Cavagnaro and Doughty   during the S DE art studio tour

SEDAST7. Ellen Rice's gallery is the only commercial gallery on the SE DE Art Studio Tour

SEDAST8. Pastel artist Laura Hickman's work station with two works in progress

SEDAST9. An art touring dog waits anxiously outside Jennifer Carter's studio in her backyard

SEDAST 10. Some of the Series II Beach Birds works in progress in Tara Funk Grim's studio


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