Brushstrokes

Brushstrokes: Womancraft rises from the floodwaters

August 6, 2013 

BRUSHSTROKES1-CHN-080113-HLL

Orange County artist Brenda Scott puts up some of her framed watercolors on the wall at Womancraft Fine Handcrafted Gifts on Aug. 1. The local artists' co-op store in Eastgate Shopping Center, Chapel Hill, suffered from flooding on June 30. The store will celebrate its grand reopening Aug. 10-11.

HARRY LYNCH — hlynch@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • If you go

    Celebrate Womancraft’s reopening from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at The Shops at Eastgate. Highlights include live painting demonstrations, 2 to 4 p.m. both days by Emily Weinstein; and drawings, with no purchase necessary, for prizes by gallery artists such as a custom pet pen and ink drawings, a fabric Bali bowl, a bunny print baby receiving blanket.

When the doors of Womancraft open at 10 a.m. Saturday, it won’t just signal the start of another business day for this artist cooperative.

It will kick off a two-day, joyous, grand reopening celebration for the decades-old entity. Since the torrential rains of June 30, Womancraft, at The Shops at Eastgate, has been closed due to extensive flooding damage.

“It is unbelievable that it has taken an entire month to get the store back in shape and ready to open again to the public,” said watercolor artist and co-op member Dale Morgan.

“The public has missed us, and we have missed them,” she added.

Customer support has buoyed the artists’ spirits as they strived to get their enterprise back on track.

“It has been so satisfying that we have had a lot of our customers be concerned about whether we were going to close up shop or be able to open back up,” said Jackie Wiggins, a stained-glass artist who was working at Womancraft during the bout of bad weather.

Sunday, June 30 was a lovely day for Womancraft. There were good sales, the usual camaraderie between co-workers and, as often is the case, memorable conversations with customers.

“Customers had left the store around 3 p.m. and Joy McGill – the other artist working – and I were commenting on how quiet it was,” Wiggins said. “Then things fell apart.”

She and McGill, a jewelry artist, noticed the rain was coming down hard.

“I went into our back room and noticed water was coming through the closed back door,” said Wiggins, who went to get a towel to mop up. By the time she returned to the back room, it was flooded.

The two artists began to move things out of the back room while the water continued rushing in.

“We knew at that point we were in trouble. The water got all the way to the store’s front in a short period of time,” Wiggins continued. “We did not realize we were panicking because there was so much going on.”

As the water level rose to near the electrical outlets, the pair began unplugging things, but they couldn’t move the display cases. Anything on the floor that could be moved was put on a higher surface.

Due to their efforts, not one piece of artwork was damaged.

Morgan was at home watching the 6 o’clock news when she saw a shot of Eastgate.

“The cars were under water. My husband Michael and I jumped in the car and raced to town,” Morgan said.

When they arrived, the water was receding from the parking lot, but there were still several inches of standing water in the store. Another co-op artist, Emily Weinstein, had also just arrived.

“We wondered briefly if we were going to be electrocuted trying to rescue our art,” Morgan said. “I immediately removed all of my watercolor paintings from the walls. I knew if they remained in the store overnight that condensation would collect inside the glass, and it would ruin the paintings.”

By the next morning, many of the 70-some artists who have art in the store – there are 23 member artists; the rest are consignees – came to help.

Mold had already begun to grow everywhere.

“It was all hands on deck,” Morgan said. “The store smelled awful. With everyone working hard, the store was completely empty of inventory by 4 p.m.”

There were a lot of decisions to make – the most important one being whether Womancraft could reopen. As a small business, it has endured ups and downs, but this was the worst blow.

When board member Sue Kopkind first entered the store at 8 a.m. July 1, she took a step on the carpet and water splashed up.

“Giving up went through our minds, but then we’d say, ‘We’ll get through this too,’ ” she said.

Co-op member Brenda Baldwin Scott said that Womancraft’s board is a main reason the store has risen again.

“They are so good at planning and frugality; that is the reason we have money,” Scott said. “They are very talented at making a little money go a long way.”

Walls had to be replaced. A new carpet was not within the co-op’s budget, so the floor has an epoxy finish – the only detail that might make a repeat customer realize anything catastrophic occurred.

Everyone involved with Womancraft is very grateful to be back in the business of again being able to offer their art to the public. Unfortunately, the artists likely will soon be packing up their creations; this time, though, it won’t be because of weather.

“We want to renew our lease, which expires this December,” Kopkind said, “We have been asking Federal Realty Investment Trust since February to renew it and as of today, they are not going to do it.

“If our customer base can help us look for a new location, that would be phenomenal,” said Scott.

For location suggestions, call Womancraft at 919-929-8362.

Deborah R. Meyer writes about the arts every month. She can be reached at writetoeloise@gmail.com.

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