OAKHURST – Step into Solstice Gallery, Plants and Gifts and you may get a noticeably good feeling. It’s filled with plants, light, and images of nature. Vases and vessels line the walls along with stunning photographs.
The small store feels spacious and if you happen to find yourself taking a deep breath and feeling more relaxed on the exhale than before you walked in, it’s no surprise. Sure, it’s a plant and gift shop. It’s also a sanctuary of sorts.
That’s all by design: the natural impulses of Amy Duke, owner of the newly opened gallery adjacent to her husband Clay’s Solstice Salon. Fittingly, because Friday, June 21, is surrounding the summer solstice, and the community is invited to a grand opening starting at 6 p.m.
Solstice Gallery is located in the Junction Plaza center next to Di Cicco’s at Hwy 41 & Road 426. Newly established Branches Books and Gifts will be open for the evening soiree, too, a festive evening complete with music and refreshments.
In the midst of making final arrangements for the grand opening, Amy Duke explained what she thinks makes Solstice Gallery so special.
“This shop is about surrounding myself with all the things that inspire me and give me a sense of excitement about life, and wanting to share that inspiration with other people,” says Duke. “I love to watch faces light up when they walk in and go, ‘oh my gosh!.’ Because it’s not just a bunch of plants lined up, there’s an actual design.”
Each wall is decorated with beautifully framed enlargements of Duke’s photographs. Close- up shots of wet river rocks are elevated to fine art. One wall holds a shelf of stunning tall vases. In a corner are whimsical ceramics and everywhere on the floor and in shelves, plants are thriving. The sound of trickling water from a lyrical fountain is never far away.
“Ever since I was very little, I had a deep connection to the way it feels to be in the presence of something beautiful,” Duke remembers. “I love to be out in nature, standing in awe of Yosemite and feeling that sense of excitement, peace and inspiration that nature brings.”
The store is a very personal investment of time and energy for Duke and her husband Clay. Orchids in crazy beautiful shades splash their colors around boisterously, while other plants are striped or spotted. Some of the plants are hand-chosen in San Francisco while others are planted or propagated by Duke.
Every piece, whether living or crafted, is unique.
“We tried to set it up like our living room, this is how we would want it to look with plants all over and the vases on the wall, it’s just all meant to compliment and inspire. It is a dream come true.”
The greenery nearly outshines the pots Duke has chosen to ensure that most anyone who stops in will find something beautiful and affordable. Prices start at $5 for a plant and $5 for a pot and go up from there. Just about everything in the shop is acquired locally.
Talking about pottery, Duke offers the provenance for large open ceramic vessels, hand-painted and designed for holding succulents. Nearby are tiny Adirondack deck chairs made for placing inside the tiny garden, as though one is planning a summer party for faeries.
“These come from two sisters, one in Mariposa and one in the bay area who makes these ceramics by hand herself and then her sister in Mariposa does all of the painting,” Duke recounts. “These are designed so you would put in some Irish moss, add succulents and you would put in a little chair, and create a miniature garden scene.”
Married three years, the Duke partnership is both creative and collaborative. While Amy takes pictures, it was Clay who encouraged her to enlarge the work. She’s also learned a lot about plants from her husband, whose green thumb is rivaled by his expertise in cutting hair for a loyal clientele.
“Clay has always had a love of plants and art,” says Duke, “and he spends so much time at the salon that he needed to make it an environment that would make him comfortable. His clients ended up asking if they could buy plants or the art that was on the walls which kind of gave him the idea that we could do this over here.”
The Grand Opening on Friday marks the beginning of the social swirl that will inevitably envelope the Gallery as summer commences and word gets around that a new Solstice is open for business in Junction Plaza.
With two restaurants, a hairdresser, an art and plant shop, a books and gift store and even a clothing boutique… the center is shaping up to be quite the mini-mecca for all things fine, fun and lovely.
Duke admits she is a busy woman. Plant-whisperer by day, many know her as a chanteuse by night, as vocalist in the Sierra Jazz Band. She also has her own band, Sparrow, with Dave Novell and Jeff Gurule.
Sparrow will be performing Friday night.
“Come in, look around and celebrate with us that the store is here,” says Duke. “Come see my store and you’ll smile when you walk in the door.”
She didn’t even mean to rhyme, it just came out the Amy Duke way… naturally.
Solstice Gallery, Plants and Gifts is located at 40282 Hwy 41, Suite 3 in Oakhurst.