THE MAYOR OF SECOND STREET
IT WAS A GIFT of a September day; the blues and mullets were running, and we could see them by the dozens in each perfect curl of sunlit ocean wave. One of my very favorite humans on the planet, my dearest artist friend Sue Sneddon, stood in her happy place, salt drying on her arms and legs from a swim taken moments before, toes buried in the sand, fishing rod in one hand, biggest smile lighting up her face as she regaled me with stories of all the folks she had met on the beach that week—the fishing lore she shared, recipes swapped for cooking shrimp or bluefish just so, local history of the island, the names of wading shorebirds and seashells — when I exclaimed, “Why, Sue, you’re the mayor of Second Street!” Sue chortled with mirth while acknowledging the truth in that statement. For you see, forty years earlier she found Emerald Isle, and then, as Sue often professed, Emerald Isle saved her life by helping her find the island she was meant to love, and paint, for all her remaining days. Second Street became her nexus, as she so often stayed at favorite homes clustered there: Batten the Breeze or Boat House or Ganavan Sands; for several years even hosting February art workshops and retreats for the Resource Center for Women in Ministry in the South. But every September and October she became our artist in residence . . . and also the Mayor of Second Street.
Back in 1977 Sue was on a quest to find the most perfect North Carolina beach. She had newly relocated to Durham from Pennsylvania and knew she had to find her water, the ocean vista that would instinctively become home to her. Having begun in the far northeast corner of Corolla, NC, and traversing each beach until she reached Calabash on the South Carolina border, Sue chose Emerald Isle for its special quality of light. Sue’s innate talent was her unique way of observing where sand meets water and water meets sky. In every painting, she captured the infinitely changing array of light and color with the interplay of sun, or even moonlight over the ocean and sound. In an interview just last year with author Liza Roberts for Roberts’s forthcoming book about a selection of North Carolina’s most extraordinary artists (Sue, of course, included), Sue observed about Emerald Isle, “I could live in that space, in that reflection of that light on that wet sand.”
Sue’s illustrations for Emerald Isle Realty have been a unique aspect of the company’s “look” and appeal for decades, from elaborate rental brochures, maps, and calendars, to logos, stationary and apparel.
What so many of us love about Emerald Isle Sue recognized as truly unique. Our east to west orientation means, from late fall to early spring, we can witness the sun rise over the ocean and set over the ocean. One special day each year on Emerald Isle even became a sacred touchpoint for Sue, the autumnal equinox. After she had found the beach, this young artist in her twenties began to search for a cottage near the ocean where she could immerse herself in her art for one to two months every September through October. She stopped in at realty offices in Atlantic Beach and up and down Emerald Isle, and most of the folks were bemused and let her know regretfully that they had nothing to rent in her limited artist’s budget. But then Sue met Mary Batten, my mother, at Emerald Isle Realty’s first office on the corner of Second Street. It became one of those life-changing moments when Sue explained why she needed an affordable place to stay at Emerald Isle and Mary replied, “Why come on in and let’s see what we can find!” Mary’s warmth and friendliness that day was never forgotten by Sue, a friendliness that grew into deep friendships spanning four decades.
It was only natural, then, when Emerald Isle Realty was searching for an artist to reimagine our sea oats logo that I turned to Sue, who had become such a dear person to me. We first used Sue’s art in 1982. For all the years since, it was Sue’s artistic vision that added beauty and grace to every VACATIONS rental catalog, and for many decades her whimsical art created a distinctive holiday card for Emerald Isle Realty as well. Sue’s genius may also be found in the pages of our annual Barefoot Guide and her Audubon-like depiction of shells, fish, and shorebirds. But her true delight was the children’s puzzle page and crossword she designed each year. For Sue’s numerous admirers, her finest work for Emerald Isle Realty was the annual calendar, culminating this year in what I believe is truly one of her very best. For several years we have collaborated with Karen Amspacher, executive director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island. Last winter Sue journeyed around Down East Carteret County and back to Emerald Isle photographing creeks and rivers that would become, through her vision, her watercolors and her paintbrushes, majestic works of art.
Sue painted through numerous health challenges during 2021, but nothing slowed her artwork, and nothing dimmed her childlike spirit of wonder at all the natural beauty, most of all the pure pleasure of sunsets over the ocean or standing in Bogue Sound, submerged up to her chin on the autumnal equinox, watching, literally, as the season changed on our planet. Late in the year Sue’s health began declining, just as the light was daily dimming and as we neared the winter solstice. I received word on a January Saturday morning from Sue’s beloved partner for over 40 years, Donna Giles, that a visit to Sue’s hospital room would be possible the next day. The oncologist’s report had been devastating. In Sue’s prescient interview with Liza Roberts months earlier she had commented, “The things I have in my head, I’m never going to be able to do them all, and it just bothers me that I’m not going to get it all done.” It’s a bewildering and piercing grief to face the sudden loss of such an important person in my life, even more so to reflect on the art we will never see, and love that Sue did not have time to share.
My deeper sorrow was knowing Sue would never see her beloved Emerald Isle again and heal by taking slow walks on her favorite beach. I envisioned the next time Sue saw Emerald Isle it would be as her soul soared over our waters, her angel’s-eye-view skimming just above the waves, the view she painted in my favorite painting, “Knee Deep.” So I did what any island friend would do, kindred spirits and soul sisters of Emerald Isle, I took the beach to Sue. Two small mason jars traveled with me to Durham; one filled with sand and shells from our shore, and briny Atlantic Ocean seawater in the other. My Christian Protestant faith has no ritual for dying as do our Catholic brothers and sisters with their Last Rites. But there in her hospital room, her sister Nance, her Presbyterian minister friend Jeanette Stokes, Donna, and I, lifted prayers, circled her bed, and we said our goodbyes as I gently dipped my finger in that ocean water and slowly drew circles of saltwater on her arm, saltwater drying on her skin, just as it had on that bright September afternoon, not so long ago.
Sue Sneddon, artist and friend, may you rest in eternal peace.
Julia Batten Wax
Owner, Emerald Isle Realty