Biz Q&A: Lantana’s Gallery and Fine Gifts

Hilary Meehan runs Lantana's Gallery and Fine Gifts in Southport with her parents, Jim and Deb, who opened the store. Photo by Bethany Turner

Hilary Meehan runs Lantana’s Gallery and Fine Gifts in Southport with her parents, Jim and Deb, who opened the store. Photo by Bethany Turner

In downtown Southport, Lantana’s Gallery and Fine Gifts serves as a haven for many regional artists and craftspeople. It’s also home to the Meehans, a family of artists and small-business owners. We caught up with the daughter of the group, Hilary, for this month’s column.

Lantana’s is located at 113 S. Howe St. For more info, call (910) 457-0957 or visit www.lantanasgallery.com.

Southport Magazine (SM): Tell us about how you fell in love with the field of art and how that passion led you to Lantana’s.
Hilary Meehan (HM): Art has always been part of my life. We have artists in our family: my great-grandmother painted, my grandparents were artists, my dad, myself—we have a whole Meehan art collection, actually! I was fortunate to spend time in museums when I was young, and my parents always had art in our house.

I’ve taught myself many techniques and taken various classes, including several at Penland School of Crafts in western NC, throughout my life. After a degree and working in architecture for several years, I decided to take my art more seriously and went to Cranbrook Academy of Art for an MFA.

Before I moved here, I was teaching art and architecture classes at the college level—but I was in Arizona and far from my family. When my parents opened Lantana’s here, I fielded many calls about artists, items, logos, ads—from long distance—so I asked to join them in the endeavor!

They had long planned to open an art gallery near the coast and finally made that happen. I am thrilled to be able to help them. Family business is another long-standing tradition in our family, and it is wonderful to have that continue.

My degree is in print-media, and I love the nature of an “original” print—allowing more people the opportunity to own a piece of art. We all feel that art should be an approachable, enjoyable experience.

SM: How important is your location in downtown Southport to the well being of your store?
HM: A customer once told us that people would go down a dark alley to find Lantana’s. But I have always been a huge proponent of bustling downtowns—a city center and shops and restaurants right downtown—as opposed to all the fresh, “new” suburb construction and outlying malls in larger cities.
Downtown Southport is a vibrant, lively, walkable area with a bonus feature: our waterfront, of course! Locals and visitors all love to stroll the town and see the water—and we are happy to have a location within the heart of Southport.

I love our historic building; as soon as I saw it was available, I made sure we got it! Our downtown location is important—but it is all of downtown Southport being alive and thriving that makes any part of downtown good. It’s like an organism, you have to have all parts up and running to support the whole.

SM: Tell us about your parents’ roles in the store and what it’s like working with your family.
HM: We have a history of family business, so it is second nature to us. I could not do this alone, nor could they; with the help of family and our employees, Lantana’s continues to grow. My dad, Jim, can be found at the shop often—either in the back office taking care of financials or, less often, behind the register. He has his own unique sales techniques, as much as he claims he’s a detriment to sales. My mom, Deb, is mainly only there on Saturdays now, or to pop in to say hi.

The eclectic nature of our store and gallery has evolved from all of us having input into what to offer. I love my family—and we all know how to deal with each other’s moods and quirks really well! Humor, forgiveness, and porch-party board meetings help get us through!

SM: Who are some staple artists in your store, and who are some new local artists you’ve recently featured?
HM: We offer a mix of coastal- and non-coastal-theme artwork. We offer the largest local collection of Wendy Kowalski (aka Mezza9) from Wilmington. Her style and work is decidedly not coastal (think circus and mythos), and yet she remains a top-selling artist for us.

Another popular artist is Mike Bryand, offering local photography on canvas—he likes to joke that he’s our 13th best-selling artist. When we aren’t sold out of Mary Neligan’s “Funky Fish” (which will be featured on December 6th for the First Friday Gallery Walk), we get repeat customers for her work. Beth Zink is a local jewelry artist that we have a long, happy relationship with; her semi-precious gemstone work has many collectors. Our now-12-year-old artist, Will Murray, is another mainstay. He is starting to grow his style so look for some more innovative pieces from him in the coming year!
A very new artist is Heather Jordan who retired from her own gallery business to paint full-time. Her oil paintings feature shrimp, oysters, fish and more oysters!

The main thing missing from our offerings right now is my own artwork! It’s hard to have time to do all the things a store needs and still have energy to come home and make art.

SM: Are there any services Lantana’s offers that folks might not know about?
HM: Lantana’s Gallery will always make a gorgeous gift box or bag for you! We deliver locally or to Bald Head Island. We are happy to loan artwork or larger pieces of Blenko glass or MacKenzie-Childs for you to try in your home (locally, of course) before you commit to purchasing. Please bring in clothing or paint and fabric samples to help us match jewelry or paintings for you!

I am our in-house jewelry “surgeon,” able to repair many a broken bauble or shorten a necklace. For any out-of-town customers, I offer free shipping on MacKenzie-Childs direct to your home!

We are a small, family business with the leeway and desire to help our customers as much as possible to have a great experience, a wonderful gift, peace of mind in a quality purchase, and to have fun while doing it! Lantana’s Gallery also offers irony and sarcasm training courses, on and ongoing basis—stop in for a test.

SM: Favorite food?
HM: Currently fresh local oysters—steamed or raw! More generally: homemade ribs, soufflé, and roasted broccoli.

SM: Favorite book?
HM: I love to read and have many treasured books. A current favorite is “Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins, and long-standing favorites include “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas and “Cannery Row” by John Steinbeck.

SM: Favorite music?
HM: When I moved here, I was amazed to find a local Wilmington surf/punk band called The Noseriders. I love those guys. They broke up but I was fortunate to be at their last show this past summer. Deadly Lo-Fi is another local favorite. One of those ones that’s not cool to like but I do anyway is The Kills. I love ’70s ska out of England, and I love jazz (I’ve seen Herbie Hancock twice!)
My dad should be answering this because his iPod mix at Lantana’s is what all our customers love—we get requests to buy the album all the time! But it’s a mix of over 200 songs, and we can’t sell them—so just come in for some bluesy tunes courtesy of Jim at Lantana’s, anytime!)

SM: Favorite place to travel?
HM: Just about anywhere! I’ve always loved big cities and living here makes that a great escape. Then again, a tropical island with crystal clear water is never a bad choice, either!

SM: Favorite thing about Southport?
HM: First of all, Southport is a wonderful place to return to after all the hustle and bustle of a big city! A “place” is defined by a conglomerate of all the special parts that make it unique, so pinning down one favorite part of Southport isn’t easy.

Southport is a very unique town with a lot of great qualities: our walkable downtown, knowing people all around town, fresh seafood, access to the beach and waterfront to name just a few. So to pick just one thing, I’d have to say my custom mosaic tiled bathtub that I made in my house—that’s my favorite part of Southport!

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