Helping downtown bloom: Artist sells paintings to help business owners

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The conversation has stuck with Wilson artist Pegi Barnes Sharp for more than 25 years. In it, a woman gives Sharp some advice: “You don’t want to be known as a flower painter.”

“Well, why not?” Sharp thought at the time. “It just calms me down so much.”

Although she does paint so much more than flowers, it is these watercolors of flowers that are helping an entire area of Wilson business owners during this frightening economic climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharp is selling small watercolors of flowers and hummingbirds online and putting the proceeds into a fund to help downtown Wilson business owners with expenses as their business traffic slows drastically or stops all together.

The woman who told Sharp not to be a “flower painter” is no longer living, but Sharp wonders what she would think about the good her flower paintings are doing.

“In a dark world, if there is anything that has a glimmer of beauty, it’s these flowers,” Sharp said. “They show that the earth is singing to us.”

Sharp’s mother, who was a master gardener, passed away last year, and Sharp says she feels her mother’s presence when she paints flowers.

“When I’m stressed, I paint flowers,” Sharp said. “It takes me to my mother. Painting these flowers makes me happy.”

Sharp, the owner of Barnes Corner Gallery in downtown Wilson and a landlord herself along with husband Rhine Sharp, said it makes her happy when she hears that some downtown building landlords have excused rents during the pandemic. But she knows that some landlords are not that charitable, so she wants to help.

“Think I’ve done about 25 paintings so far,” Sharp said recently. “We closed the gallery down early (in March), and I immediately started painting them for myself as stress relief. Then I saw how serious this (the pandemic) was getting and thought, ‘Here’s how I can help people.’”

Sharp had no idea that so many people would want her paintings, and although she knows that some of her friends have wanted to own a Pegi Sharp original painting for a while, she really thinks there is another reason her paintings have sold so quickly.

“I think it’s the goodness of people wanting to help,” Sharp said. “Some people have a good amount of money and big hearts, but they just don’t know where to start when it comes to helping. And they trust me to do the right thing.”

Sharp says she has “a list as long as my car” of people who want to buy her paintings, which sell for $150 each, for the downtown Wilson economic relief project and is having trouble meeting the demand.

“Within 15 minutes of posting on my Facebook page, they are sold,” Sharp said. “I can’t keep up. I’m doing my best to get five or six out a week, whether delivered or mailed.”

With the money earned so far, Sharp has paid rent, utility bills, paid for diapers and other supplies needed by business employees who are now out of work. The donations are decided by need but built on trust.

“I trust them, and they trust me,” Sharp said. “Some downtown businesses said they were OK financially this month but knew they would not be OK the next month.”

Sharp even set up a small fund for a restaurant to pay for food in case people walked in and said they were hungry but didn’t have money.

Sharp has applied for a grant but will only accept and spend that money if the need by downtown business owners is still there when and if she is awarded the grant.

If there is money left over from the sale of her paintings, she will keep reaching out to downtown businesses through the end of the coronavirus outbreak.