For just three weeks, The Gallery on Central Avenue has been in operation, replacing Iron Age Antiques, which stood there for more than three decades. But it already has people turning their heads.
Two long-time friends and notable local artists, Laura Hickman and Aubré Duncan, have brought their talents together in Ocean View, with complementing artwork that instigates immediate thoughts of tranquil summertime.
“We’ve always been side-by-side,” said Duncan about her friendship with Hickman.
Both, members of the Rehoboth Beach Art League, have crossed paths in the past, displaying much of their work at the same events, including the Art League’s shows and the annual fall Bethany Beach boardwalk art exhibit.
The two artists each knew that art would become a great part of their lives at an early age, painting for hours upon end when they were young girls.
When the Ocean View property went up for lease back in December by owner Bob Svenson, the two made a quick decision to go in as a team.
“It’s nice, because we know we have each others’ back,” said Duncan. “We don’t have to carry the entire weight of everything. When one of us can’t be here, the other is. It’s also nice to have someone else around to talk to.”
A colorful array of selections from both artists lines the walls inside the store, from Hickman’s cool, calming alley scenes and beachscapes, to Duncan’s vibrant, powerful pieces of summer nostalgia.
Duncan’s work with watercolors has brought her across the nation and back, but much of her artistic expression reminisces along the eastern coast, from her native New England to the Delaware shore where she resides today. Beach chairs, sailboats and lighthouses are among her frequent subjects.
“The coast is the coast, no matter where you live,” said Duncan, who’s known simply as “Aubré” when it comes to her paintings. “The New England coast may be rockier [than here], but there are still wonderful, whimsical things about them both.”
She has also painted pieces geared for children, furthering the use of colors in her one-of-a-kind style.
Travels have fueled most of Hickman’s oil and pastel creations, too.
“Anywhere I go, I love to paint,” said Hickman.
Born and raised in southern Delaware, much of her work illustrates scenes of Bethany Beach, along the shore, and around town, depicting weathered buildings, several of which are no longer standing.
The majority of her other works are inspired by landscapes and cityscapes of the Tuscan region in Rome, Italy, where she spent her junior year of college studying art. European scenes have played a motivational role in her work.
“If you get the chance to travel,” she said, “you can’t get enough. It gets in your blood. I find myself going back and revisiting, all the time. What’s even more amazing is that no matter how many times you go back, things don’t really change there as much as back home.”
Hickman has been commissioned for paintings, fulfilling requests for works depicting beach scenes, homes and even family dogs. She is currently working on 15 pieces, all at the same time.
“I have a lot to do sometimes,” she said, “and I can be working on any one of them at any given time.”
Duncan, who prefers to focus on one painting before moving to the next, said her imaginative style is more of her own, not one that could easily be requested.
“My paintings come from my head,” said Duncan, “and many times, they aren’t always realistic.”
Duncan attributes much of her early inspiration to Edward Hopper, a New York and Massachusetts artist known for his honest genre and figure paintings.
“I liked his style,” she said, “but I started getting more and more to my technique. My colors tend to be brighter.” Her bright, bold tones have since become comparable to the psychedelic works of New York painter Peter Max, Duncan noted, though her watercolors are still the sole reflections of her own imagination.
These two artists have become synonymous with art and the Delaware shore.
“There aren’t many people in the area who haven’t heard of one of us,” said Duncan. “A lot of people who might not be from here recognize our art from somewhere else.”
Since the opening of the gallery, the building has served as much more than a display place for the women to showcase their work. Hickman has a studio set up in the back where she works on multiple pastel pieces at any given time. Duncan paints the majority of her watercolors at home but uses the shop as her studio from time to time, as well.
Long before it served as an antique shop, which it had been since the 1970’s, the building belonged to Hickman’s family, serving as storage for construction equipment.
“It’s nice to be back here again,” Hickman said.
“It kind of seems like fate brought us together,” added Duncan, “and back to the house that [Laura’s] family once had.”
Both share a common teaching background, as well. Duncan, after receiving her bachelor’s degree in art education in California and her master’s degree in fiber arts from Vermont College, taught in high schools and colleges throughout the New England area. Hickman earned her bachelor’s degree. in studio art, a master’s degree from the University of Delaware. She has also studied art at Trinity College in Connecticut, and overseas, in Rome.
In addition to the hundreds of masterpieces throughout the store, customers at The Gallery can also peruse through Duncan’s collection of colorful, hand-made jewelry, which she makes from pearls her husband has brought back from his own travels.
“It’s just a hobby I do on the side, but it’s a lot of fun,” she said. Mugs with original prints from the artist can also be purchased at The Gallery.
This summer, one of Hickman’s paintings of the Bethany Boardwalk will serve as the label of Bethany Beach Chardonnay, a new wine produced by Beach Liquors in Bethany Beach.
“Our first shipment just came in,” said Beach Liquors owner Mike Kappes. “It’s a great, new wine with a nice traditional chardonnay taste. In the past, we’ve used generic, computer-generated labels for some of our personal wines, but each year, we’re hoping to incorporate a new local artist.”
With each purchase of Bethany Beach Chardonnay, a donation will be made to the Ryan Scott Kappes Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to families of terminally ill children. The wine, available now, will be carried exclusively at Beach Liquors, located along Coastal Highway in Bethany Beach.
“It’s an easygoing area to be in,” said Duncan. “Everybody here is very friendly. People coming to the beach are very relaxed and calm. It’s a great business.”
There are countless paintings for sale at The Gallery, though Hickman and Duncan do not provide framing for most works.
“Because we’re in a residential district of town,” explained Duncan, “we were limited to the services we could provide.”
The Gallery on Central Avenue is located at 10 Central Avenue in Ocean View. It is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, or by appointment. For more information, call The Gallery at (302) 539-5730, Aubré Duncan at (302) 383-3781 or Laura Hickman at (302) 539-0494