With Gratitude

by | Apr 18, 2024 | Art & Culture, Shopping

At Blue Gracias Open Air Art Market in Topsail Beach, artist Liz Guri channels her creative nature and appreciation for life through art and sustainable goods.

After nearly 10 years of visiting Topsail Island with her family, Liz Guri opened Blue Gracias Open Air Art Market in Topsail Beach, where thankfulness for the beach way of life inspires her art and the market.

Blue Gracias occupies the first floor of her mother’s former home on S.  Anderson Boulevard, now owned by Guri and her sister, Julie. The home once housed summer interns from the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Hospital.

“My sister and her husband bought a cottage here in 2014 and we all — my family and my parents — would visit. After my father died, my mother moved here in 2019, but she died unexpectedly in 2020,” Guri says.

A former Savannah, Georgia, resident, Guri lived here part-time after opening her market, but she is now a full-time resident of Topsail Beach.

Blue Gracias Topsail Beach NC

“I’ve always wanted a shop, so I worked with a friend in her Savannah store, One Fish, Two Fish, before opening Blue Gracias,” she says, adding that she took classes at the Cape Fear Community College Small Business Center in early 2020 to strengthen her shop skills. She opened the art market in 2021.

The shop name is inspired by her father and reminds her of him and the lessons he shared on being thankful in life.

“Dad had a very small, old sailboat that he fixed up and learned to sail, and at the same time was taking Spanish classes,” Guri explains. “So, in gratitude for blue skies and blue water, he created the email handle blue gracias. When we decided on the shop name, Blue Gracias was perfect. Mom’s spirit is here, and this brings Dad in too. The whole concept of the shop is gratitude. Being grateful for every day, and Mom and Dad were like that.”

A tiki statue beside a wide wooden sign with the word CURIOUS painted in blue compels you to walk to the open door and into the shop. Gratitude bells tinkle at the door to welcome you. Clothing lines one wall, while encaustic art explodes everywhere, joining colorful displays of pottery, jewelry, body products and candles.

Products in the shop are sustainable and earth-friendly, and most are handmade and animal-friendly, including body-care products from River Organics in Wilmington, soaps from Earth and Anchor, pottery from Mays Pottery near Pittsboro and upcycled bags made from recycled plastic bottles and cement and feed bags by a Portland, Oregon, company. Guri carries art supplies, including brushes, papers, pastels, paint sets, watercolor sets and charcoal sets for artists and budding artists. Gift certificates are available.

Small, printed quotes, life reminders by famous and not-so-famous folks, appear throughout the shop: “Be in love with your life. Every minute of it” – Jack Kerouac; “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” – Nelson Mandela.

Products are chosen not only on sustainability, but also their ability to offer a smile.

A children’s note tablet is made from recycled elephant dung. Clothing items range from linen dresses and skirts from France and Italy to repurposed Asian Indian saris as robes. Blue ice-dyed cotton shirts, made by Guri, are imprinted with Blue Gracias with stamps she and her daughter hand carved.

Topsail Beach NC Blue Gracias

After her daughter left for college, Guri sought her next place in life.

“I had so much time on my hands,” she says. “My daughter had done travel volleyball and that kept me busy. She left, and I had all this time for creative expression.”

At the market, Guri sells her paintings as well as art from many of her family members.

“All the women in my family are artists,” she says “My sister makes leather goods. My niece makes earrings and paints, and my daughter paints.”

“I’ve been an artist since childhood,” Guri says. “I painted while I was in the Air Force and during college, and even as a counselor, I painted and created stained glass. In 2008 I was one of 12 artists in Savannah in a show titled ‘Reincarnated’ in the Savannah City S.P.A.C.E gallery, showcasing art created with reused, repurposed materials.”

When she worked for her friend Ted Dennard, who created the Savannah Bee company, she learned about encaustic painting.

“Some SCAD professors (Savannah Collage of Art and Design) came in to buy beeswax,” Guri says. “I was curious, and they explained the encaustic method. I took a workshop and loved it, like it was meant to be. I still create art for the Savannah Bee shops all over the South.”

Blue Gracias Liz Guri

Encaustic painting is a technique in which hot beeswax is mixed with pigments and then applied in layers. Each layer is fused by applying heat to soften it enough to fuse with the layer below it. This layering gives a depth and luminous quality to the encaustic paintings.

Guri is often behind the shop working on her own art — encaustics, ice dyes, paintings or something new that has touched her curiosity.

“I’m always creating,” she says, waving a hand toward the jellyfish, ocean waves, mosaics and ice-dyed shirts lining the walls.

Stop by and Explore:
Blue Gracias Open Air Art Market
706 S. Anderson Boulevard, Topsail Beach
The shop is open most weekends with days and times.
Facebook: bluegracias

Photography by Daria Amato

About the author

Kate Carey

Kate Carey

A former Ohioan and Buckeyes football fan, Kate M Carey has her toes firmly placed in the sands of Topsail Island. Kate writes fiction about people and the strange things they do for love and essays on the politics of everyday life. Her work has appeared in Noctua, Indiana Voice, The Tishman Review, Panoply, Camel City Digest, Savannah Writers Anthology, and County Line Journal. A guest columnist for Women AdvaNCe, she and her husband, an Episcopal priest, moved to North Carolina in 2015 and have adult children living in Ohio and Florida.