The lavender house on the south side of Route 9 in Manahawkin, a historical structure built in 1860 as a parsonage for the adjacent Hertiage Park church, has been a bridal shop, a rosewood gift shop, an Italian restaurant and a 70s sandwich shop.
As of last November, under the direction of Manahawkin resident Samantha Palmeri, it became something unique. It became the "Art House."
"It's just what it is -- literally, it's an art house," Palmeri said. "I mean, every room is being utilized for something artistic."
Palmeri, who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York and moved here with her husband and daughter eight years ago, has been a gallery shop owner, an art teacher and an artist. She decided to pull it all together when embarking on her newest venture.
"It's almost like a culmination of everything I have done before," she said. "I had a little gift shop, I owned a gallery in Staten Island, I've taught."
The gallery in the house's various rooms features paintings, photographs, sketches, wall murals and more from local and other artists. Palmeri, who continues to experiment with painting and other art forms and uses some rooms of the Art House as her own studio, teaches classes for children and adults at all levels, holds exhibitions and sells prints, jewelry and all sorts of souvenirs and trinkets.
Some of the products include ceramics from Matt Burton, owner of M.T. Burton Gallery in Surf City and a shore-themed poetry picture book from Richard and Pat Morgan, who both live on Long Beach Island. Featured are also imports from artisans as far away as Peru and Africa. Palmeri said her shop sells "fair-trade products," which ensures that the artists benefit fairly from the results of their labor.
In addition, on the first Friday of every month, Palmeri holds open microphone nights for poets, musicians and creative writers at the lounge in the back of the house. There will be one tonight, Friday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m.
Palmeri will also open a Summer Exhibition next Saturday June 9, on Stafford Township Founder's Day, an event for which she still accepts artwork, she said.
"It's a salon-style exhibition, where things are hung from ceiling to floor," Palmeri said.
The building itself is worth visiting. The ecletically artistic atmosphere -- complete with unique music playing in the background and the tangy-sweet smell of incense coming from Palmeri's studio -- along with the historical structure's rich past provide a sense of being in an artists' haven in a town not necessarily known for prevalence of art galleries.
Pine Shores Arts Association is the only other organization offering art classes and hosting arts events in Manahawkin. Barnegat also has an art gallery, "Gold Duster," on Bay Avenue, dedicated to regional artists and artisans.
Since she first opened the Art House, attracting a following hasn't been easy, Palmeri said.
"There is not much going on in the area," Palmeri said, speaking of the arts and culture. "That can be a little bit of a challenge."
But even though she slowly, the artists have been coming out of the woodwork, she said.
"They are here," Palmeri said. "It's just a matter of getting the word out."
Palmeri's ambition for Art House is to be a meeting place for the area's artistic community.
"As an artist myself, I keep the mission of meeting other artists and networking with other like-minded people," she said, adding that the Art House is open to hosting all kinds of events for the area.
"We're pretty much open and flexible to anyone who has an event," Palmeri said. "We're basically a community service. The Art House is kind of like a museum, almost, but of course everything is for sale."
For more information about classes, exhibitions or open mike nights, email Palmeri at firstname.lastname@example.org, call her at 609-978-4ART, visit http://arthousegallery.net/Gallery.html or stop by the Art House at 182 North Main Street.