Art in the yard (yART) hits 10-year milestone in Bethany

Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: MERR Director Suzanne Thurman holds a cetacean skull outside the MERR building. The marine-animal rescue organization will be the beneficiary of this year’s yART sale.Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: MERR Director Suzanne Thurman holds a cetacean skull outside the MERR building. The marine-animal rescue organization will be the beneficiary of this year’s yART sale.This Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, marks the 10th anniversary of the annual yART sale at 33258 Kent Avenue in Bethany Beach. (yART = art in the yard!) There is no “rain date,” so fingers are crossed for fine weather.

The yART sale has become a win-win-win event. Artists win because they are able to display and sell their creations in an intimate and lovely setting, with the only requirement being a donation of one piece of their work.

The community wins by seeing and keeping up with the work of some of the area’s best artists of all media, and potters, jewelers and other artisans. And, most importantly, local non-profit organizations win from being beneficiaries of a “Chinese auction” of the artists’ donations, to the tune of more than $20,000 thus far.

The yART sale takes place in the circular driveway of the home of Julie and Nick Kypreos. The amount of time, effort, planning and generosity they devote to having successful events each year is somehow obscured by the seamless ease, fun and conviviality on the actual days of yART sale. And that includes when a sudden cloudburst erupts and everyone rushes around, focused on protecting theirs and others’ artwork from wind and rain.

“For me, the atmosphere of the event is the best part,’ said Julie Kypreos. “We always have a really great group of artists — some the same and a few different each year — who have forged a unique dynamic amongst themselves and with the public that faithfully returns. Everyone is always excited to see each other’s new pieces and perhaps new directions their art has taken them, and to check out the auction table to see the amazing donations.”

“The second best part is knowing that 100 percent of the money raised is going right back into worthy causes in our local community. I’m really happy that Suzanne Thurman and the MERR Institute is our charity this year.”

The MERR Institute is dedicated to the conservation of marine mammals and sea turtles and their habitat. MERR stands for Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation. This year marks the 15th anniversary of its inception.

“I majored in special education in college and had a minor in environmental studies. After teaching children with special needs for many years and then becoming responsible for environmental education at Cape Henlopen State Park, I came to realize that Delaware had no formal non-profit program to rescue stranded sea mammals or participate in research on carcasses that land on our beaches,” said Thurman.

“That realization happened when, in a short period of time, both a dead humpback whale and a live seal came ashore, and my boss was out of town. He told me to take photos of the whale and monitor the seal until it could be rescued by the Baltimore aquarium. I was so enthralled by it all, I offered to be a volunteer for the state and get training.

“The tipping point came when a live loggerhead sea turtle came ashore at Beach Plum Island. It had a 3-foot shell, weighed about 250 pounds and was in a cold-stun state. After keeping it overnight in my laundry room, keeping it covered with wet towels and listening to the clattering of barnacles on its shell, it was barely alive the next morning when the aquarium picked it up. But it was nursed back to health and eventually released in North Carolina.

“From that experience, I knew we could do better for our marine animals in Delaware and, with lots of encouragement, I started MERR.”

Since then, Thurman and her team of volunteers have been available 24/7 for emergency response and rescue calls about strandings varying in size from the mighty fin whale that came ashore on Middlesex Beach in 2006 to little Lily, a weanling seal with a broken jaw rescued this past Easter Sunday.

“Some volunteers and I went to see Lily’s release back in to the ocean at Assateague in May. We were jubilant. There are so many that we can’t help. We need successes to keep us going,” said Thurman.

(The Stranding Hotline to call for sightings of both live and dead marine animals is (302) 228-5029. The website is at

Along with the weight on her mind of doing the right thing for Delaware marine life, providing educational and awareness programs to the general public, and performing necroscopies and data collection for research, Thurman has to battle the perennial non-profit burden of funding.

“We found out that we are not getting the federal grant through NOAA for this year, and maybe next, which is a huge blow. We have an annual fundraiser — we call it our MERR Finraiser — in November, and apply for as many smaller grants as we can, but otherwise we depend on individual generosity. We are just thrilled to have been selected as the beneficiary of the yART sale this year,” said Thurman.

Thurman and some of her volunteers will attend the yART sale, and she said they look forward to sharing their knowledge and stories.

A popular feature of the yART sale each year is the children’s tent, with free face painting and crafts.

“My cousin, Lennea Downs, has taken charge of the children’s tent every year,” said Kypreos. “I’m always amazed by the level of creativity she inspires from the kids. In fact, some pieces are good enough to frame and hang on the wall. This year, the theme will be marine mammals, to go along with our charity. With the tent and the display brought by MERR, there will be a lot to fascinate kids and adults this weekend.”

But the main attraction of the yART sale is, of course, the artists and artisans. There will be many familiar names from the local art community, including Lissy Chapman, Damon Pla, John Donato, Jeffrey Moore, Dawn Pierro, Erick Sahler, Morgan Golladay, Maureen Ickrath, Philip Adkins, Martha and Forrest Bogan, Mike Veasey, Joe Mason, Barbara Dietrick, Kristin Mallery, Trudy Fox, Gerrilyn Gatskill, Paula Howard, Anne McLean, Sherrill Christian, Cindi Pace, Linda Zerfling and Ralph Romeo. Ask almost any of them, and they will say the yART sale is their best show of the year.

There will also be newcomers, including Matt Dove and Stephanie Karn from Punk Rock Fish Studio in Berlin, Md.; Heidi Wetzel, a basket weaver; and Issa Luna, an artist with a fresh appeal. Also returning, after selling out of her children’s book “Larry the Lonely Lionfish” on the first day of the sale last year, will be author Jenny Donaway.

If one’s senses are not sufficiently aroused by the sight of so much beauty, there will also be musicians both days to add cheerful sounds and listening pleasure. Helping, as always, will be the extended Kypreos family. Indeed, 10-year-old Sophia has literally been part of art in her own front yard every year of her life.

The yART sale has become a Labor Day weekend tradition for many in our community. Why not make it yours?