by Jesma Reynolds
photographs by Catherine Nguyen
A Cameron Park homeowner with a gypsy spirit and eastern North Carolina roots lives an artful and enchanted bungalow life
If it’s true that the supreme art is the art of living, then Cameron Park is home to a master. In a charming bungalow tucked away on a leafy street, this artistic homeowner has created an unexpected jewel.
“With a little home you can do anything,” she says. No rules to break, no styles to follow. Instead, the petite residence is a blank canvas for the homeowner’s creative eye and adventurous spirit.
Treasures collected from her years of far-flung travel commingle with eclectic art and sculptures by the homeowner herself. Her passion for animals is reflected in decorative objects and two lively, tail-wagging dogs who greet a visitor at the door.
From the time she was young, the homeowner says she “always had a little spot I could call my own.” So it was a no brainer more than 30 years ago for her to buy this diminutive cottage, originally built for the next-door family’s daughter.
One of the first things she did after buying the house was to open up a passageway from the front room (now the dining room) to the rest of the house. She lifted and reshaped a doorway to resemble the bow of a ship, and crafted a curved niche opposite in order to echo the boat motif and provide a glimpse into the kitchen. Though subtle, these changes create a sense of space and give the feeling of being transported on a journey. It’s fitting, because while the house is small, there is much to explore.
The homeowner’s own art is a good place to start. As a longtime state government employee who has since retired, she spent her off hours learning to sculpt. She began taking classes in 1993, inspired by the work of Mickey Gault, who is now her teacher. She has kept up regular lessons with Gault ever since.
Her work is sturdy, resembling that of an ancient civilization. Animals, wild and domestic, inspire her. Flipping through a photo album, the homeowner shows some of her early pieces, including a hippo, crow, raven, armadillo, bulldog, and guinea hens.
In the living room, she points out a particularly beloved sculpture of her deceased dachshund Special Ed (“because he did some very special things”). He now holds court on top of a bookcase.
The dining room houses two of her large-scale works, influenced by her intrepid travels. Resting on the floor is a Balinese-looking “pouf.” Its delicate, carefully-wrought, leafy texture fools the eye, begging a visitor to take a seat. The artist is quick to point out that would not be wise: the cushy “pouf” is in fact a hollow vessel.
Across the room is A Lady For All Seasons, a full-body representation of an island woman made of clay, overlayed with copper, and exquisitely decorated with eggshell. She says another teacher, Marguerite Leon, helped her with that piece. “In all the big things I do, my teachers get very involved.”
The modest Kinston native, a self-proclaimed incurable vagabond, has tried to satiate her wanderlust with trips to nearly every continent, and says she delights in discovering places off the beaten path. She’s looking forward to an upcoming trip to Cuba with friends where she will officially visit as a “student of Spanish.”
But she yearns to go to Borneo to see the orangutans. Animals are truly her other great love. She reminisces about Jack, an African grey parrot who lived at Hunt & Gather Antiques where she and a partner rented a booth for a time. She says she fed and visited Jack every day for three years, and eventually helped find him a permanent home.
She bristles when asked if one particular collection of animals is made of ivory. “I am your typical animal rights activist,” she says bluntly. She says her father was a great friend of animals as well, and often fostered them while she was growing up.
As the house tour winds down, the effusive owner offers up lunch on her back porch. Though tempting, it’s time to release her from hostess duties – so that she can return to her private, beguiling, and supremely artful world.