A family poses in front of a cheerful pink, green, and orange mural of North Carolina. This building-long piece of art has become a selfie station for locals and visitors walking historic downtown Wilson and is a beacon of what awaits inside The Selkie.
Like her mural, artist and The Selkie owner Amanda Duncan is warm, vibrant, and welcoming.
“I did a real shout out to 80s dayglow with those colors,” Amanda laughs. “I created a store not just for my work, but for all the incredible North Carolina people I know who make art. I just went for it.”
Duncan specializes in unique laser cut and engraved leather bracelets and earrings. Before opening The Selkie in 2021, she sold the hand-dyed wearable works of art online and in markets in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area. She was inspired to open The Selkie when the pandemic hit in 2020.
Duncan moved her family to Wilson, an easy decision after falling in love with the art community there and her husband Jeff Bell, the director of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park and Museum.
“I grew up in Cary and I watched it explode, so when I started to spend time in Wilson, my spidey sense was tingling. It’s pretty special when the main driver for a town’s development is whirligigs,” says Duncan. “Wilson’s art-based businesses are not competitive. There are open arms everywhere you turn. All are excited about successes and want to collaborate together.”
Wilson’s art scene includes contemporary sculptor Elizabeth Laul Healy, who welcomes visitors and shoppers to her gallery Iconostar. The Eyes on Mainstreet gallery is open with a curated selection of photography from across the globe. The gallery is just down the street from where Burke Uzzle keeps a private studio.You probably recognize this renowned photographer’s work from the iconic images of Woodstock, the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., and other seminal moments from his six decades as a photojournalist. Also in downtown Wilson, the creative team behind Artisan Leaf, who are turning cured tobacco leaves into decorative pieces, the only shop of its kind.
When Duncan opened The Selkie in January 2021, she became a part of that scene, selling not just her own works, but those of her artisan friends. Her shop carries gift items from 60 North Carolina-based vendors.
“I carry anything that falls into the category of a learned craft that’s been around for a while,” explains Duncan. “The individuals are usually part of a guild and have spent a substantial amount of time honing their craft, like Kelly Walsh.”
In the store today, a group gathers Walsh, a hand weaver and textile artist based out of Durham who offers a demonstration of her craft. She expertly intertwines red and gold threads on her wooden loom. On the table next to her are examples of her textured, vibrant products that The Selkie carries–scarves, bags, kitchen towels, and wall hangings. Duncan invites artisans like Walsh to do in-store demonstrations regularly so that shoppers can get a sense of the intricacy and design that go into pieces she sells in her store.
Duncan calls out the signature patterns and glazes on pieces from potter Wei Sun, an immigrant from China who now lives in Raleigh. The stunning platters, bowls, and mugs are also functional and dishwasher safe making them incredible gifts.
Unique, handmade jewelry is on display around the store. Duncan’s leather pieces are shown among the likes of jewelry designer Valarie Evans of PlaidLove Threads.
“Valerie reworked the idea of what embroidered jewelry should look like,” says Duncan. “They are modern, current, and on trend.”
The Selkie is also home to an art installation that doubles as easy access to miniature artworks. The brainchild of Winston-Salem-based artist Clark Whittington, the Art-o-mat® is a retired retro cigarette vending machine converted into a vending machine for small artwork.
“It’s making art accessible, so original art is getting in people’s hands for $5 each,” says Duncan. The installation is one of 50 in the United States selling artworks by more than 400 artists. “I met people from Vermont who came to Wilson on a vacation just to see the Art-o-mat® in my store.”
Duncan’s careful product curation means shoppers delight in a one-of-a-kind, fun array of gifts to choose from–body care products, graphic tees, stickers, among the other art and craft pieces. Visitors have to demonstrate self-control; it’s almost impossible to visit The Selkie and leave empty-handed. That family posing by the mural? They walk out of The Selkie with die cut water bottle stickers and a specialty deck of cards depicting Jane Austen characters.
Visit Wilson and stop in this unconventional gift shop that celebrates North Carolina creatives. Find something unique. Fall in love with craftsmanship. Ask Duncan about the item that catches your eye and hear about the artist who created it. There’s no place quite like The Selkie.