Tucked behind Hilton Shopping Center off Warwick Boulevard is an unassuming building. Inside the plain white windowless façade is 20,000 square feet of wholesale art supplies. Fred Worthington, owner, who is not an artist, was originally associated with Wornom’s Arts and Crafts in 1973. When that store closed in 1989, he bought the warehouse in the rear and opened the current business.
“I started with selling frames and related items. “I supplied other frame shops,” says Worthington. “I did not advertise and was careful not to compete directly with retail stores who were my customers,” he adds.
Now the store carries a wide range of art supplies such as pottery clay, paintbrushes, foam board, glass, charcoal sticks and acrylic paints. It also provides framing services, including custom-frame molding along with dry mounting and matting. There are more than 500 picture frame samples in-house. The customer base includes both retail art companies and the general public. It is the only wholesale art supply business based in the Hampton Roads region.
Worthington, 84, now spends most of his time delivering supplies to customers from Richmond to the Eastern Shore, Nags Head and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. “I drive about 55,000 miles a year,” he says with a smile.
Managing the store is Larry Vanover, who is an artist. Some of his creations are on the walls. Born in Hampton, he has been a major part of the local art scene all his life. He was educated at Thomas Nelson Community College and the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, obtaining a degree in visual communications. In the years between then and joining Hampton Roads Wholesalers, Vanover held a variety of positions. He was in charge of set designs for the former Tidewater Dinner Theater; for six years he was a teacher’s assistant at New Horizon Center for Autism, working with individual children. “There is a real connection between artistic and autistic, other than the similarity in spelling,” he says. “Many autistic children are very talented.” Vanover describes this as a life-changing job. “My art changed and I really ‘found myself,’” he adds.
Vanover has been involved in many environmental projects. He worked with Mara Yoko on the Hampton Waterways Restoration Project. A project involving oyster beds is upcoming. “Clean the Bay” was one unique project/art show. Items were retrieved from beaches and waterways, and then turned into art. There was an art show/fundraiser. “It was very successful,” says Vanover. “We made the front page of the Daily Press.”
Vanover has been a floral designer, managing Jeff’s Flowers, Of Course. He has run small “pop up” galleries in Hampton. “There have been ‘so many’ art functions and festivals over the years,” he says. Vanover no longer does shows featuring his work.
“Now I consider myself an ‘amateur archeologist,’” says Vanover. He has become very passionate about Indian artifacts. As a beachcomber he has found many carved stone tools with Indian profiles and mammoth heads. He believes them to be older than 13,000 years. “I have quite a collection,” he says. “I live in a museum,” he adds. Vanover (a Cherokee name) has a “joy for life” and becomes quite animated when he describes his interests. “I am weird,” he adds with a twinkle in his eye. He laments the lack of an Indian museum in the area. He has plans to write a book. “Maybe two,” he says.
Worthington was born in Kinston, North Carolina on a tobacco farm. He attended East Carolina College and came to Hampton when he was 20 years old. He was an early owner at Jack’s Restaurant in Hampton. “I am not an artist,” he says. “I am more of an entrepreneur and an innovator.”
Worthington has no retirement plans. He works 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., spending most of the day on the road, making deliveries. “I like to read and play the stock market,” he says. He has grandchildren and a daughter in Manassas.
“We don’t advertise,” says Worthington, “but people find us.” He knows many local artists. Barclay Sheaks donated a number of signed prints for charity events. Hampton Roads Wholesalers has 12 employees. “We are a tight-knit group with a family environment,” says Vanover.
The back outside wall has a mural-in-progress. “We had problems with graffiti and the city insisted that we paint over it, says Worthington. Unfortunately the ‘artists’ repainted it. However, we have discovered that the graffiti stops when we have a mural. Vandals won’t bother art.”
TO THE POINT:
Hampton Roads Wholesalers
Address: 9616 Hosier St.,
Newport News, VA 23601
Contacts: Fred Worthington, owner;
Larry Vanover, manager
Business: Art and framing supplies