By Ruth Fordon
Just past the Ocracoke Lighthouse and before the corner to Springers Point Trail, look to your right and you will see Pamlico Gifts, home to Folk Artist, Elizabeth Parsons.
Folk Art is defined as art that does not come from classical training and study. It is more closely related to craft traditions and is characterized by a naïve style in which traditional rules of proportion and perspective are not employed. One of the more famous folk artists is Grandma Moses.
One of Ocracoke’s famous Folk Artists is Elizabeth Parsons. Her shop with all her handcrafted items in addition to her paintings is a folk art mecca. Be sure you allow enough time to chat with Elizabeth when you visit her shop, she is a rich source of history and wonderful stories about what it was like to grow up on the island.
Her father like many of the men of his generation worked off island on a dredge along the mid Atlantic coast. That is where he met his wife to be and Elizabeth’s mother. He returned to Ocracoke and commercial fishing when Elizabeth was two years old. Her family had a small store on the island where Elizabeth and her sister, Della helped out. Della owns the little shop called “Woccocon Nursery and Gifts” which you will pass on the left as you travel to Elizabeth’s.
Elizabeth has always loved handcrafting with shells and driftwood which are plentiful on Ocracoke beaches especially after storms. She recalled one time when a storm delivered buckets of shells that she and her family collected over the course of a week. More than she had ever seen … starfish, olives, scallops and Scotch bonnets. Then one morning, the tide changed and everything disappeared. Just like that, overnight, the beaches were empty.
She recalls meeting her husband Roy when she was selling hotdogs at her family’s store. He told her that as soon as he saw her he knew “she was for him”. After dating awhile, they married in 1950 to start their own family. Many people heard Roy perform guitar, sing and yodel as a regular in the Ocrafolk Opry. He was also an excellent carver. His cheery smile and funny stories are one of his legacies. Sadly, Roy passed on a couple of years ago and is deeply missed.
Elizabeth began to work on canvas more than 20 years ago. Her paintings show scenes of the harbor, boats, the lighthouse and other aspects of island life. They are bright with primary colors and lovely in their simple design and execution. Her shop has artwork on every shelf, all “one of a kind” and unique in her straightforward style of painting.
In 1979, Roy built her shop, Pamlico Gifts to sell her assorted island craft work. In recent years, Elizabeth has begun painting her island scenes on driftwood, t-shirts, hand towels, mugs and other items you will see in her shop. Her shell baskets are all made from local seashells and personally handcrafted by her. You can also find CD’s of Roy’s music at the shop.
Aging has brought on arthritis which has slowed the craft work for Elizabeth but her spirit and passion for art shines as brightly as ever. Be sure to visit her at Pamlico