Karen Krupa, faculty member in the ECU College of Nursing, and her husband Bob Henkel have opened the Inner Banks Artisans' Center in Washington, N.C. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


SECOND CAREER: New center provides home for artists

By Crystal Baity

Karen Krupa’s former East Carolina University nursing students might have done a double take browsing in the Inner Banks Artisans’ Center in Washington.

“They’ll say, ‘don’t I know you from somewhere?’ And I’ll ask did you go to ECU?” Krupa said. “And then it hits them. Mrs. Krupa!”  

Krupa, a retired longtime ECU nursing faculty member, and her husband Bob Henkel of Chocowinity have opened the artisans’ center on Main Street in Washington. The center features art materials, acrylics, baskets, blown glass, books, fabric art, hand-poured chocolates, jewelry, mixed media, oil paintings, pencil, photography, pottery, quilting, sculpture, silk art, stained glass, string instruments, watercolor, woodwork and yoga.

It’s a second career for both. Henkel is a retired businessman. Krupa returned to teach community nursing part time at ECU and is a part-time consultant at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.

“I have no artistic talent at all,” Krupa said. “I’m hospitality.”

The idea for the center came from a visit to the Bel Air Artisans Center in Rocky Mount. Henkel had a building and was looking for ideas for its use. “They said ‘if you build it, they will come,’ ” Krupa said. “We came back here and Bob started drawing out plans. People started knocking on the door to see what we were doing and they told others.”

The circa 1911 building, once a Woolworth’s, has 6,000 square feet of first floor space that has been transformed into 18 working art studios with 80 juried artists from eastern North Carolina. The center is just down the street from the Turnage Theater.

Managing artist Jan Paysour arranges displays and juries artists. She also hosts a reception each month to highlight several local artists. She can count at least six ECU alumni who display and sell items at the center.

It’s also home to Thursday night and Saturday morning jam sessions and Friday night open mic hosted by the Beaufort County Traditional Music Association. And Bobbi Jo’s Coffee Shop is located at the rear of the building featuring fresh-squeezed lemon, lime and orangeades.

Krupa and Henkel opened in November 2009, erecting the walls just in time for the first Washington Art Walk. All the studios are full. “There is obviously a need,” Krupa said. “The artists are here and so are customers. The artists are thrilled. They have a venue to sell their items.”

Doris Schneider retired to Washington about three years ago. She taught theater arts and scene design at North Carolina Central University. She makes masks, jewelry and paintings, and rents a studio at the center.

“They’ve done wonderful things for Washington,” Schneider said. “There are an amazing number of artists in this community and they’ve given us a home, which is wonderful.”
Since finishing the ground floor last year, Henkel has plans to move up. On the second floor, he hopes to open a potting center with a recent donation of two kilns, an art classroom, and two art studios overlooking Main Street. The third floor’s open plan has the bones for a dance studio. 

While the economy has hurt artists’ sales, Henkel hopes people will not put off buying beautiful handmade objects that can have an immediate impact on their psyche. “It really calms you. It does that for me,” he said. “It’s a great place to come to get a ‘one of’ item.”

The center’s summer hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and until 9:30 p.m. on nights with live music. For more information, go to www.innerbanksartisanscenter.com.


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