By Molly Harrison • photos by J. Aaron Trotman
Being in someone else's home can be like looking through a portal into their soul. It's a type of intimate invitation into another's life, if you look at in a certain way. It's not about seeing what kind of material goods people have amassed or how much money they make, but it's about seeing people with their guards down. When you see what people choose to surround themselves with, you can learn what really matters to them.
Pat and Glenn Eure, owners of Glenn Eure's Ghost Fleet Gallery in Nags Head and residents of Colington Harbour, are known to have a fabulous collection of art and an interesting assortment of objects and oddities in their home. One spring day, they opened their home to photographer Jim Trotman and me, and let us into their lives by letting us into their home. They do have fabulous art and interesting things, but they have so much more than that.
Glenn and Pat have surrounded themselves with objects of purpose and personal importance. Everything around them has a memory attached to it, a link to their roots, an association to something special. The things around them provide the backstory for the current play of their lives.
And Glenn Eure loves to tell a story. On the Outer Banks, he is as well known a comedian and raconteur as he is an artist and community figure. As we toured the Eures' home, with every object we touched, they told stories, mostly Glenn but sometimes Pat too, and along the way two people were revealed.
We were barely in the door when Glenn was proudly pointing to a strange object hanging on the second-floor loft and revealing it to be an authentic Australian military issue shower bucket. Jim seemed honestly impressed, and I wondered, should I be? I really don't know much about military surplus. But I could see it means something to Glenn, and he loved telling us that the bucket is a remnant of his associations with Australians in the Vietnam War, and part of its appeal is that it's an oddity not many can claim to own.
I sat down on the sofa, and Glenn told me: "I fished the boards for that sofa and the bookshelves out of the Park Service dumpster." He said this with the complete dignity of a born salvager (which I can easily recognize because I am married to one). Glenn told us tales about being the artist in residence for the National Park Service when he first moved to the Outer Banks.
As I looked around, a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material to be covered in just the living room alone, Pat saw a pair of face-shaped bookends catch my eye. "I call those Epilogue and Prologue," she said.
Glenn explained that they are plaster and sand castings, which were made on the beach in front of Tanya's Ocean House Motel many years ago. "A group of local artists used to gather on the beach there," said Glenn. "We'd bring a 500-pound bag of plaster, and when people would walk by we'd make castings of their faces. We would actually talk them into sticking their faces in the sand. About after 10 minutes, they'd have a casting of their face."
He started to reminisce about an intoxicated woman who sat down for a butt-casting, but Pat cut him off before I could catch the punch line, and she pointed to two faces over the wood stove. These castings are Glenn and Pat, lovingly arranged at the heart of the home.
I asked questions about other things I saw: antique decoys provided memories of Glenn's forefathers and of growing up on the Bogue Sound in Carteret County, North Carolina; bizarre nautical objects inspired hilarious stories of his days in the dive business (if you ever see Glenn Eure, ask him about one Christmas he spent in Engelhard); Glenn's own artwork – including an eerily stretched self-portrait of himself in Vietnam – brought out more stories of his days at war and of life on the Outer Banks more than 30 years ago.
Original artwork is an elemental part of the Eures' surroundings. The works of Glenn's Outer Banks contemporaries past and present predominate – Denver Lindley, Maggie Stewart, John de la Vega, Steve Lautermilch, Lillian Rosenthal, Edith Deltgen, Frank Sparrow, Kent Godwin, Frank Wurster, Gregory Kavalec and many others. Much of the artwork is work that other artists have done of Glenn and/or Pat, and the art reveals love and honest affection for these two people.
I noticed that a small white dog has a presence in much of the artwork in the Eures' home, but noted that the dog didn't seem to be there now. This was revealed to be Pelekea – Hawaiian for "lots of trouble" – the Eures' Tibetan spaniel who lived to be 23 and who inspired many an artist. Pelekea once bit painter John de la Vega square on the nose, leaving two distinct holes, but he painted her portrait with reverence, even after the fact.
By now we were off the sofa, climbing the stairs, past more paintings and photographs and life stories. A Denver Lindley painting inspired Pat to tell a story of a time when a customer bartered a Volkswagen for framing services at Glenn Eure's Ghost Fleet Gallery. "When Glenn Eure asked me, 'How was business today?' I said, 'Great. I took in one car.'"
On an upstairs wall is an homage to Glenn's military career. Pat said she found all of Glenn Eure's (she always calls him by both names) military memorabilia stuffed away in boxes. She got it all out, framed everything and lovingly displayed it on the wall. "I have a need to organize. In another life I was an archivist," Pat said. "And at our ages, you think, 'what meaning will all this have beyond our lives?'"
Pat said she wanted Glenn's four children and six grandchildren to know about Glenn's military service experience. Glenn did two tours in Vietnam and two tours in Korea. I saw a certificate for a Purple Heart for Wounds in Action, though he did not talk about that. He told us mostly the fun stories about the people he met. "I loved being a soldier," said Glenn, who retired as a major.
A pair of lederhosen caught Jim's eye, and Glenn revealed that when he started art school at East Carolina University after retiring from the military, in typical art-student nonconformity, he actually wore those to classes.
While Glenn showed Jim other military memorabilia, Pat took me on a tour of a bedroom. As we looked at a painting that Glenn did for Pat, she told me that she met Glenn in his gallery in 1976, the first year he opened. She lived in Charlottesville but vacationed on the Outer Banks because she loved art. She said when she married Glenn in 1979, she married into a whole colony of artist friends. They started building the house in 1980, in what was, back then, a very remote piece of land in Colington Harbour.
I saw other evidence of Glenn and Pat's romance throughout the house – paintings he's done for her, a photo collage she made of "Glenn Eure's priceless expressions," a secret passageway where Glenn wants to build Pat a writing studio, a painting directly on a piece of wood in the kitchen that Glenn did for Pat once when she was out of town.
Much of the house is devoted to Glenn's studio space. In his painting studio on the main floor, he has numerous vastly different works in progress, and he is surrounded by items of inspiration, such as photographs of his youth, and paintings and photographs that his friends have done of him and for him. Downstairs he has even more studios, with artistic mechanisms that rival those found in any art school – an etching room with three presses of various sizes, an inking room, a collagraph room, a supply room, a wood room. He has drawers full of plates that have yet to be printed. He has stacks of things just waiting to be turned into art.
"I have a tendency to hang on to things," said Glenn. "I might need it one day. It can all turn into artwork."
Pat pointed out that this nicely complements her own need to organize.
"He likes to collect, I like to archive," said Pat. "We have a lot of nicely ordered junk."
As we toured the home, I saw Glenn and Pat's enormous reverence for creativity and their eye for the beauty in everything. (Glenn seemed to equally adore a hairy ice bucket made from an elephant's foot and a painting created by a friend.) I saw their tenderness for family and friends in the way they display photographs and artwork. I saw Glenn's need to rise above the mundane – he created a painting with the specific purpose of camouflaging the telephone, and their dining table is carved with a dramatic pirate scene. And I definitely saw Glenn's oddball sense of humor – lewd anthropomorphic turtles, a silverware box capped with a human-sized casting of a foot, an officer's club chair that he pilfered so that nobody would steal it.
This house is so much more than shelter, more than a roof over two heads. It is the story of two lives coming together, and of a beautiful creation – an extemporaneous, haphazard, entirely idiosyncratic, organic creation.
Touring this house went far beyond the typical "show-off-the-house" tour. Glenn and Pat, and all their belongings, had spoken volumes. Yes, I'd seen the vast array of artwork and interesting things I came to see. But through their stories, I had also been around the world – with a solider in Vietnam, learning to eat cookies in Hawaii, on an Indian motorcycle in Swansboro, North Carolina, on the beach at Tanya’s Ocean House Motel, in the 1970s artists' community on the Outer Banks and to so many other places.
And, more than that, I had come to know two people, not just their accomplishments or their outward appearances, but their values. I saw firsthand their devotion, honesty, humility and courage. I had seen their humanity.