Across from the Virginia Air and Space Science Center in downtown Hampton, tucked into a strip center, is a gem of an art gallery, featuring a huge variety of art works. Established in 1991, Blue Skies Gallery has been an anchor business in the area. With 5,000 square feet in which to display, it provides a unique location for art of all kinds. “We have original art and fine crafts in all mediums,” says Darla Sexton, owner and manager. Sexton bought Blue Skies Gallery five years ago. The previous owner provided the name. “I don’t know the origin but I liked the name and saw no reason to change it,” says Sexton.
There are more than 50 exhibitors, ranging in ages from 17 to 86. “The artists sign a year’s contract to rent space. After that, some continue, others move on,” says Sexton. The artists are required to supply at least 20 pieces. They also alternate working hours in the Gallery every month. “I consider the potential for sale In selecting which pieces to display,” she adds
There is art to satisfy all tastes — from small earrings to large wall hangings. Also featured are pottery, photography, woodworking, baskets, cards, stained glass, sculpture and soap.
Hannah Wong, a water color artist, will have her first solo show in May and June. At the same time, Shannon Moore’s wire-wrapped stone jewelry will be featured. Margaret Hall Jester, an illustrator of children’s books and a muralist, has been affiliated with the Gallery for five years. Some of her work appears on the outdoor wall of the Gallery. She has provided commissioned work for Sentara, including animal characters. (Stuffed animals were made from her designs and given to children in the emergency room.) Gerome Meminger is a well known permanent artist at the Gallery. A professional for 30 years, Meminger has been associated with the Gallery for 10 years. His work can be described as contemporary and abstract.
The Gallery is available for birthday parties and private “wine and paint” nights. Private receptions can be scheduled, as well as private shopping hours for groups. Open wine and paint nights are held monthly. There are adult and children’s art classes, plus art camps for children. The Gallery provides an opportunity to have a refreshing night out and learn something new, Sexton says.
It takes approximately an hour to walk through the entire Gallery,” says Sexton. “Our artists are in the Gallery at least one day a month to assist customers. “They often demonstrate their art,” she adds.
“A number of our artists are also teachers,” says Sexton. Fifty percent have art degrees. “They teach classes and also offer assessments. They discuss the work of an amateur artist and make suggestions for improvement or redirection.”
Handmade Christmas ornaments sell well,” says Sexton. “And a lot of visitors come in and ask for Hampton memorabilia.” In January and February, there will be the annual Red Heart and Artist Market Sale. It will feature resale items from the Gallery, including supplies and reduced-price art work. “Anyone interested should check back often,” says Sexton, “as there will be more items added regularly.”
Sexton’s father was in the military. She grew up in Germany and upstate New York and has lived in Alaska and northern Virginia. She graduated from Methodist College in Fayetteville, North Carolina, with a degree in sociology and business administration. She also earned a masters degree in social work. “I took art classes every semester, but I certainly had no plans to buy a gallery!” she says with a smile. “My first job was with the government in Korea. I wanted to travel.” Her two years in Alaska were as a recreation specialist. She has run a military gift shop, selling items from other countries.
Sexton moved here to enroll her daughter in the gymnastic program on the Peninsula. “It’s the top one in the U.S.,” she says. She is involved in the Sister City program in Hampton, hosting visitors from England, France and South Korea. “I hope to go to France with this program this year,” she says.
Blue Skies Gallery
Contact: Darla Sexton, owner and manager
Address: 26 S. King St., Hampton, VA 23669