The first time I saw Ben Keys, I was making breakfast and looking out my front window. I saw this artist set up in the plein-air style on my street, painting a portrait of my neighbors home. Since I had started my Wilmington Artists in Their Studios project, I noted to myself that I had to introduce myself to this guy and see if he would be interested in a portrait session. Well, since he was right out the door, you would think that I could get myself out there for an introduction. Wrong. Every time I managed to keep the thought in my head, I was sidetracked by another task and by the time I could get out the door, he was gone. This is common for me, but I was determined, and finally stayed focussed long enough to get out there and meet the artist, Ben Keys. We exchanged hellos and he was interested in and had been told of my project by Ann Cunningham, a friend and artist who I had already photographed. We met at his very cool studio near the beach and had a great session. Ben is enthusiastic about his work and carries that energy to the canvas. It was fun to watch him work and capture his energy in the ensuing photographs.

Like many artists, Ben left a business career to pursue his passion of painting. He has studied at the Torpedo Factory, the Art Institute of Chicago and the International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture in Umbria, Italy. Several years ago he moved from Chicago to the Wilmington area to do a series of architectural portraits for a local construction company and stayed. Ben’s main focus is on the plein-air style and his easel has graced sidewalks in Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Raleigh and Washington, D.C. His painting is inspired by French Impressionism and he applies it to landscapes and architecture in North Carolina and its surrounds.

Ben is represented by galleries throughout the country and his work is collected internationally. He has been featured in Encore Magazine, Metro Magazine, Exhibit C Magazine, Wilmington Magazine and has had articles written in the Raleigh News and Observer and the Lumina News.

You can view Ben’s work and achievements by going to his web site at BenKeys.Com Once you are there, linger awhile and get to know this dynamic artist. I know I am glad I finally made it out the door.


Spending time with Ann McCray let me into the world of  an artist possessing many talents. Some of these are writing, painting, and photography, but it is her work on canvas that dominates her space and really embodies the energy in her art.

Captured in bold strokes and palette, Ann works in oils, and often creates abstractions of water, trees, sky and flowers. Her paintings are suited to large, airy spaces where light and distance combine to emphasize a sense of freedom.

According to Ann, her personal goal in her work is to marry beauty with function, while at the same time, harmonizing space. To quote: ” A person’s visual experience is psychologically and emotionally significant to a positive life experience. The human heart rests in beauty”. Building on that, Ann has seen her work displayed in a veteran’s clinic in Lufkin, Texas, a church in Kalispell, Montana and cancer treatment facilities in Cincinnati, Ohio and Amarillo, Texas.

Ann has an aura of calmness and spirituality that is immediately felt in her presence and it makes you feel very much at home. It is also evident in her work.

Ann has been painting for 20 years. She is represented by several galleries in North and South Carolina. In Wilmington, she is represented by New Elements Gallery, 216 North Front Street(910-343-8997). You should stop by and see her wonderful work.

Ann also has created several preview books of her art and poetry and these are available at Blurb by clicking here.


When you walk into Betty Brown’s studio you feel almost as if you are in a plein air setting. A wall of windows at the entrance lights up the space and my first thought was that it was a happy, bright studio, a perfect environment for creating art. It would work for any medium and it certainly has been used to its fullest by this very talented artist.

Betty Brown raised four children and when the last went off to school in 1975, she began painting full time. Her education background includes degrees from Queens University in Charlotte and UNCW and also studies under nationally recognized instructors. She mainly concentrates in studio and plein air painting, but being the true artist, also has interests in book art, assemblage/collage and writing. She travels extensively with other artist friends, recording those travels with her brushes, oils and watercolors. Betty also shares her painting knowledge and skills by conducting workshops. She conducts classes for individuals and groups in her studio on the use of oils and watercolors, and  gives plein air workshops in Pawleys Island,South Carolina and at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC.

Betty is a program grant recipient and her art has been recognized with awards in national exhibitions. It appears in private and major corporate collections and traveling exhibitions worldwide. She also has had her work published in several magazines and books, as well as appearing in several movies on set. Betty’s paintings are in the permanent collection of the Louise Wells Cameron Art Museum and Franklin Square Gallery. The accomplishments this woman has made in the art world are quite impressive and I am truly honored to be able to include her in this project.

You must take the time to experience the art of Betty Brown. Her work can be viewed in Wilmington at New Elements Gallery, 216 N. Front Street. For information call 910-343-8997. Drop by and see how this wonderful creative views her world.


When you enter the home of talented artist Nancy Noel May, from the living room to the garage, there is no doubt that you have entered the world of an artist and art lover. The walls are festooned with  works of art that she has created, as well as pieces by artists that she admires. There is even a small painting hung at eye level for her dog, so he too may enjoy gazing at a nice piece as he dines. Then there is, of course, Bebe, which has become something of a trademark for Nancy. Bebe is a Smart car which is “wrapped” with an image of a painting Nancy did from the upper porch of the Seaside Club in Wrightsville Beach. It is a “smart” way to market herself and drive people to her website: It  makes you smile and its a clever way of branding for Nancy. It is truly an unmistakeable vehicle.

Nancy grew up in the Chesapeake Bay area and much of the vibrant colors and scenery from coastal areas are evident in her art. She has worked in oil and acrylic and now concentrates mainly in acrylics. Her love of travel is reflected in the variety of places depicted in her paintings. Her bright, light filled studio is filled with many of these paintings being readied for display, as well as sketches of what are sure to be new pieces.

Nancy is affiliated with several galleries. Here in Wilmington she is represented by and also manages Spectrum Art and Jewelry, located at 1125 Military Cutoff Rd. Stop by and say hello to Nancy, view her wonderful art, and don’t forget to check out Bebe in the parking lot.