Ginna Earl greets me at her house in Sanford, some miles south of Pittsboro. It’s dusk, the sun sets behind the house, giving it a nice glow, and Earl comes out gently, to welcome me on the winding path that leads to her front door. Inside, a picture of Oscar Wilde hangs by the door, a painting in the Art Nouveau style hangs across the way, and then you see paintings by her mom, artworks she found on Etsy over the years, and many other patterns, colors, fabrics, plants, and all the tools and equipment of an artist. On her dining table is a book she’s reading: “Waterlog,” about the adventures of a man who swims throughout the British Isles.
It’s fitting that an interview with Earl occurs in the early hours of the evening. “Vespertine” means exactly that – flourishing in the evening, like a star.
Sitting down at her dining table, Earl talks about what led to the closing of Vespertine, the store in Carrboro that she owned and operated 2011 to 2017, as well as her artistic process, her thoughts on retail, and her plans for the future.
Will she reopen Vespertine? At the moment, the answer is no.
“Right now, I just want to be in nature,” Earl said.
Ever since Vespertine closed, Earl has been focused on healing, and much of that, through spending a lot of time in nature. When she works, unlike the name she chose for her store, she often works in the morning, “when it’s still fresh,” she says.
This need to heal has to do with events that go back to 2015. In the fall of 2015, one of her friends committed suicide. That alone would have been difficult enough to deal with, but her business also suffered setbacks the following year. Although 2016 was Vespertine’s most financially successful year, both of her employees quit. The first suffered a breakdown during Mother’s Day weekend in 2016, while she and Earl were both working in the store helping customers. The second left a couple months after that incident.
As Earl recounts what happened, the shock and anxiety – the trauma of it – still reverberates through her body.
“The thought of trying to find someone new was overwhelming,” she said. “It just was really demoralizing to think of hiring someone else.”
From the summer of 2016, for the next year, through the election of 2016 and the first months of Trump’s presidency, Earl mostly worked alone. All of that became too much, and Earl decided to close in the second half of 2017. After Vespertine closed, This & That next door expanded into the space. And Vespertine, her cherished store filled with Flyleaf T-shirts, button rings and bobby pins, cards of plants, moons and stars, and Earl’s own North Carolina necklaces and ginkgo and cherry blossom earrings, was no more.
After that, Earl went back to Pittsboro and wanted to refocus on her craft. When she owned Vespertine, it was difficult to get in time to do her own work, she said.
She’s working to diversify her income. Her North Carolina necklaces are mainstays and sell well, and Earl has been doing more enamel jewelry, and branched out into embroidery and fabric.
The delicateness of Earl’s work and her calm, soft manners hide an underlying strength and focus. When she talks about her work and when she demonstrates her work, she makes it sound easy, like it’s just play.
She likes to travel and has made jewelry inspired from her travels, like the intricate Pere Lachaise Pomegranate necklaces created after a trip to Paris.
“I try to get these done in one go,” Earl says and laughs in her soft way, and holds up a bowl full of perfect remains of the pendant, the jeweler’s equivalent of peeling an apple in one long strip – except it’s not an apple, it’s sawing pieces of silver.
Her instinct for strength and endurance cannot help but come out even when she is trying to heal.
As part of her healing process, Earl has been doing the “Maryland Challenge.”
“A friend of mine asked if I had heard about it. I said, ‘No, but I’m in!’”
“And she said, ‘I think you should Google it,’” Earl laughed.
The Maryland Challenge came about from hikers doing the Appalachian Trail who wanted to push through all of Maryland in one day. That’s about 45 miles in 24 hours, with end points at the Mason-Dixon line and West Virginia.
Earl’s “long distance walking,” as she calls it, began in 2015. By last summer, she was doing the “Maryland Challenge” on the American Tobacco Trail. She hiked through the entire trail with two friends, 22 miles in one day. “Your body starts doing weird things after the 20th mile,” Earl said.
“But after you’re done, the showers you take are the best showers you’ll ever take,” she said.
Earl’s goal is to be able to do the real Maryland Challenge by next summer.
In the meantime, Earl’s time in nature and work from her home in Sanford does not mean she has completely stopped creating. In her studio are new earrings in large gold designs. Much of the art that was sold at Vespertine went to This & That, and Earl also sells her work there now.
Inspired by her Maryland Challenges, Earl has also created jewelry for marathoners. But still, another setback happened last summer. While fulfilling a large order from a company, Earl suffered major burnout. So another way Earl is keeping herself grounded is by working in her father’s machine shop, doing assembly and shipping.
“It’s satisfying,” she said. “It’s neat being in the machine shop, thinking of all the possibilities. You can build anything.”
River Takada-Capel, a Carrboro-based artist, has selling her works in Carrboro for more than a decade and is currently at This & That. Along with Vespertine, Takada-Capel also has sold at Roulette Vintage, the vintage clothing boutique that used to be where 2nd Wind is now, and North Carolina Crafts Gallery.
Her compliments on Earl came out in one long, uninterrupted flow. “I didn’t even have to think about it,” she said afterward.
“I think she’s super talented and really just playful. That’s what I always loved about her work, that it’s super delicate, playful, with great attention to detail. And she’s always evolving. I think I can really tell from her work that she takes a lot of time to learn about something and implement her delicate designs to her work and carry it through all the crafts that she does,” Takada-Capel said. “One of my favorite things (at the store) was the origami paper flowers. It was her sense of color and sense of pattern, and just the crisp precision of her craft was so pleasing. I would see a paper flower and feel like I have to buy this thing. And I feel like this is also what she curated in (Vespertine), which was a lot of people who were extremely good and extremely talented, and had perfected their work.”
Raleigh-based jewelry maker Sonya Rook, of Metamorphosis Metals, had similar compliments on Earl. But on Vespertine’s closing, she said she was not completely surprised. “I know other people who have owned stores who have decided to close. That happens a lot in Raleigh because the rents are going up in the downtown area or they’re not getting the traffic,” Rook said.
Earl notes all the business closings with sadness and weariness. Cameron’s in Carrboro, all the stores and coffeeshops in Pittsboro.
With a front row view of Carrboro’s business happenings since 2011, she said foot traffic was definitely a problem. Although the town gave new businesses that opened in the Hampton Inn building support, existing local businesses did not get support.
And the 2016 election did not help matters. The day after President Donald Trump was elected, “Carrboro felt like it was in mourning,” Earl says. Foot traffic was nonexistent. To combat the dreariness of that day, Earl and another artist put out a painting he had done of Rev. William Barber, of the North Carolina NAACP. “That holiday season was so surreal,” Earl says. “People just did not really come in.”
In general, Earl says of retail in Carrboro: “Too little butter spread over too much bread, is how it feels.”
Talking to Earl and reading her blog on Vespertine – last post was in May 2016 – it’s clear how much toll the years of working the store and working on her own craft at the same time have taken on her creative spirit. Or, to be more accurate, how exhausting and draining it has been to do so while responding to the changes in the world and in her own life.
Earl first opened Vespertine in Pittsboro in 2010, and took over the Nested space in Carrboro in early 2011. In the first years, her Vespertine store blog brimmed over with excitement and passion.
In a March 2011 post, she wrote, “Having a shop in Carrboro has been quite the experience, for many many reasons. My favorite though, is that I feel such potential here…”
When the General Store Café in Pittsboro closed in January 2012, Earl wrote passionately about her memories of the store and the need to support small businesses. “I really hope that we can all collectively pause now and think about what is happening with Pittsboro. How can we better support our businesses? How can we make this a positive and thriving place to live?” she wrote. “We can use the Mainstreet Program as a great place to start envisioning our future and figuring out what we need to make it become a reality.”
Additionally, not having a storefront makes Earl feel like she’s not as able to be creatively spontaneous. “I can’t just make something and put it in the store and have people see it,” she laments.
But Earl is still continuing to work, and she is getting back to putting her work out there. She’s doing a craft show today, her first since before Vespertine opened, at the Triangle Pop-Up show in Raleigh.
“I’ve always been drawing or making. My mom was always creative. My dad is an inventor,” she said. “It’s just how we are.”