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Second-place winner for Best Lede, 2017 N.C. Press Assn Online Division
By Connie Leinbach
In Karen Rhodes’s world, sailfish have girlfriend parties on boats and loaves of bread go surf fishing.
These are two of the many colored-pencil depictions of fish in human settings one can find in Rhodes’s new shop, Trixie’s Fineries, in Community Square.
Chat with Rhodes and she reveals the backstories.
A tuna sleeps in a bunk beside two billfish “suits” hanging nearby in one piece titled “Stayin’ Alive.”
“He got a free calendar for buying two suits,” Rhodes explains with a laugh, “and he has the tournament dates crossed out so he knows when not go to out.”
Rhodes, an avid fisherman herself, says she tries to show the lighter side of sport fishing.
“It’s such a serious sport I completely understand,” she says. “I try to show what it would be like if fish had a life.”
Her designs adorn a variety of souvenirs: Tervis Tumblers, coasters, cutting boards, smart phone cases, women’s and children’s clothing, change pouches, license plates and even baby binkies.
“Gills Gone Wild,” an image depicting a group of billfish in colorful outfits fishing themselves, is typical of several scenes in which Rhodes places her fish. There are marlins in martini glasses, a dressed-up marlin holding a glass of wine titled “Cabernet Trixie,” and a billfish riding a tuna.
“When tuna get that big, they’re called ‘bull tuna,’” she says about this cowboy bull-riding theme.
A series of porcelain Christmas ornaments depict fish pulling Christmas trees, sledding and riding a sleigh like Santa.
“I started off with realistic drawings,” she said about her art. “Then I veered off with my sense of humor.”
Another drawing shows a loaf of Roman Meal bread in Crocs surf fishing with a jar of mayonnaise as bait.
“That one’s a conversation piece,” she said, hinting that this image is an inside joke with a friend of hers. “A lot of people end up in my art.”
For many years, Rhodes attended sport fishing tournaments in Hatteras as a vendor and onsite artist, and the serious sport fishermen patronized her art.
“They love it,” she said. “It’s just different.”
For those seeking more sober designs, Rhodes has items that simply depict a billfish or two, or have embroidered billfish emblems.
Several realistic drawings of old Ocracoke, such as a drawing of the Community Store in the 1950s and the Wahab Coffee shop that was the original, center part of the Island Inn in the 1940s, are included in the mix.
Her appreciation for Ocracoke’s history stems from her most recent job with the Ocracoke Preservation Society where she was responsible for the many historic photographs and history posted on its Facebook page.
Rhodes landed in Hatteras in 1996 after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in fine and commercial art.
For many years, she had a shop there called Karen Rhodes Funbill Fish Art. So, her shop on Ocracoke builds on that prior incarnation. “Trixie” is the name of her pink sailfish logo.
Colored pencil is her medium of choice as she showed a work-in-progress—a design for Eduardo Chavez to sell at his popular island food truck Eduardo’s Tacos.
“I love the control you get with pencils,” she said. Her detailed work is difficult to distinguish from paints.
Rhodes also has a display case of jewelry she’s created from sea glass, shells and pieces of pottery—all found on island beaches.
A few of her pieces contain rare purple beach glass.
“In the early 1900s, glass makers included manganese, which turns purple in the sunlight,” she explained.
Rhodes is still working out her hours, but for now the shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.