This Saturday, Vines Creek Nursery near Frankford will host an art festival dedicated to a local artist – one who many people who grew up in coastal Delaware, or who have lived here for some time, came into contact with, personally or through her art work, and maybe without even knowing it.
Kathy Brown’s work can be seen all around the area. She painted the mural at Warren’s Station in Fenwick Island. She also depicted such well-known places as Fisher’s Popcorn, the old Holiday House and Millsboro Middle School, as well as creating a logo for the new Bayside Chapel on Route 54. Brown always attended art shows and classes, and she also did many house portraits, in watercolor and in a pen-and-ink technique.
The last time she spoke with the Coastal Point, in 2008, Brown estimated that she had done about 15 to 20 portraits each year for almost 30 years, and she had the good fortune of all of her art being commissioned.
Brown, who retired from the Indian River School District, died this past April.
Although she taught math, Brown was always an artist. She taught in western Sussex before eventually doing work for a print shop. After that job, a position teaching math opened up and Brown taught for about 15 years at Selbyville Middle School. She spent her last eight years before retirement teaching at Millsboro Middle School.
“Through teaching, I always had my hand in art — not only for the extra money, but to keep the art interest going,” said Brown in 2008. “I blame my art interest on my parents not knowing I needed glasses,” said Brown. “I would look at books and dictionaries and try to draw the pictures. It wasn’t until third grade that I was awakened to the letters!”
Brown’s friend Barbara Burns said many people knew of Brown or her artwork, but many hadn’t realized that she had passed away. Burns said she is trying “desperately to keep her memory alive through her art, her love of the Delaware beaches and the students she taught.”
Brown’s work will be available at Vines Creek Nursery off of Omar Road near Frankford, as part of the Vines Creek Fall Festival, scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 18. In addition to Brown’s artwork, the nursery’s selection of fall mums, winter pansies, pumpkins, baled straw and much more will be featured. There will also be many craft vendors on site, ranging from basket weavers to stained glass artisans to photographers, and even an origami expert.
“This should be a lot of fun, and we certainly hope the public will come out and join us for this special day,” said Burns. “Vines Creek Nursery is just a beautiful place to spend a Saturday in the fall; stop by and see what I mean this weekend.”
In addition to the fun and games, and many other vendors, local author James Diehl will also be on hand signing copies of his two books, “Remembering Sussex County; From Zwaanendael to King Chicken,” and “World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware.”
“I’m really looking forward to this unique festival. I’ve known Barbara for some time now, and I know how much her friend meant to her; this is a very special way of honoring her memory,” said Diehl. “This should be a lot of fun, and I hope to see everyone there.”
All proceeds from sales of Brown’s work will go to support the art departments within the Indian River School District.
Neil Beahan, principal at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, who had worked with Brown for many years, said he wasn’t surprised at all when he heard of her wishes to support the arts in the district and added that it was “tremendous” gift in an era of cutting back.
“She was a very giving, kind person,” he said of Brown. “She always had time for you and was wonderful with the kids. She loved kids and was always enthusiastic, and by her very nature was a giving person.”
Beahan said that Brown would give gifts to the whole staff – ornaments, etc., that she would create. “The time it took to do all that, for 50 people... and she did it every year. She was that kind of person. Although her art life was often separate from her school life, it doesn’t surprise me that she would want the money to come this way. It’s a nice legacy for Kathy.”
Burns, who is also an artist, met Brown at a St. Matthews by the Sea art class.
“We grew to be best friends,” she said. “She was my inspiration and my best friend.”
Brown had lived in the area since the 1960s, but she grew up in Rockville, Md. She started her college career as an art major but eventually changed it to elementary education.
“Back then, there were certain careers for women: teacher, nurse, secretary,” explained Brown in 2008. “And I couldn’t type, I could hardly read and I hated blood, so I started at the state college, Towson.”
Life eventually took her to Japan and North Carolina, and then she finally found her way back to the Eastern Shore and finished her elementary education degree at Salisbury State (now Salisbury University) and started teaching – always keeping art as a side gig. Brown had said her house portraits were interesting to do for people because of their intense reactions.
“Several people have gotten very emotional. I had one lady fall on her knees and cry. It’s a unique kind of gift, especially when the house has held a lot of love and laughter and the family has been there awhile” she said.
Now Burns, who has the job of cleaning out Brown’s house, which once was filled with love and laughter, wants to make sure that people know the type of friend Brown was.
Burns said Brown was courageous up until the end and was very strong in her faith, and never stopped giving, and never asked “Why me?” After her cancer diagnosis and being given four months to live, she lived for more than a year.
“She spent the last 15 months of her life figuring out which charity to give her estate to and spent those last months giving to people,” said Burns. “She was a good woman. … “She loved her students and she loved art.”
Brown’s work can be seen and will available for purchase at the Vines Creek Nursery. The art sale and festival will be Saturday, Sept. 18, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Her work will also be available for purchase at the Peninsula Community Church’s art festival, which will be held Oct. 16, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Burns also said people who have had portraits done or wish to purchase a piece of Brown’s art can contact her at (302) 853-0429. Proceeds from those sales will also benefit the art departments within the Indian River School District. For more information on the Vines Creek event, call (302) 732-6832.