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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

State Street Galleries: blowfish emporium

The interior of the blowfish emporium has a
The interior of the blowfish emporium has a "Greenwich Village" look. (
Additional photos below »


blowfish emporium
Bristol, Va. • 276-644-1428

Bethany Wilson
and her husband purchased a downtown building in 2008 with plans to renovate the upstairs into a residential loft for themselves and to lease the first level as retail space. "Well, God had different plans," she recalls."Month after month we had people interested in the retail space but no concrete deals."

Wilson began thinking outside the box. "I knew several artists in the community who were not showcasing their work, which was absolutely insane to me because their artwork was awesome. That sparked something inside me, something that made me want to share these talents with others. As I started planning a local and regional art venue as a business, doors began to fly open. I mingled with the 'art crowd,' made new friends, and convinced many of them that I was going to do something great in downtown Bristol — and they believed me!"

When Wilson opened the doors of blowfish emporium in August 2009, the gallery featured more than 30 local and regional artists. Within three months, that number had doubled, and more contact her each week, she says.

blowfish also offers a "twist" on teaching art classes. Wilson explains, "We provide an experience called The Grape Easel on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Local artist Pat Jessee selects an image (for example, a landscape, abstract, flowers, or musical instrument), participants use it as the subject of their own masterpieces, and they have a finished painting to take home at the end of the evening. Whether you think you are creative or not, Pat helps you dig deep to walk away with something meaningful. We have had children as young as four-years-old come paint with us as well as men and women over the age of 80. It is a great way to relax and have fun." blowfish also does customized parties for a girls' night out, family reunions, birthdays, business gatherings, fundraisers, and much more.

Wilson says, "Taking the plunge and opening your own business is always risky, no matter the economic condition. Opening blowfish was a risk; and, yes, it was scary, but what in life is better than taking a leap of faith and have it turn out to be successful and enjoyable? Few people in life can say that they truly enjoy their job, and I am one of those lucky people. I think it takes a whole lot of passion and interest in your field, as well as a solid support team to continue a successful business. Of course, you also must be able to conduct business and know how it all operates — be a little business-savvy if you will."

She continues, "It is really cool to be part of the movement in this region of people realizing how art can affect them. Somehow art makes you feel cultivated. I love seeing all the new galleries and boutiques open up because with them comes a heightened sense of awareness. I love seeing people of all ages browsing and enjoying the experience at blowfish emporium. Art is very subjective, so age has nothing to do with it. For example, we had a baby crying up a storm while his family was shopping. The mother walked by a vibrant, colorful painting and all of a sudden the baby was silent. He was staring at this wonderful painting!"

— 606 State Street Gallery

A "twist" on teaching art classes at blowfish emporium is The Grape Easel. Artist Pat Jessee selects an image which participants use as the subject of their own masterpieces, and they have a finished painting at the end of the evening. (

blowfish emporium is owned and operated by Bethany Wilson. (