Stroll just a few doors down Old South Wharf and you’ll find a cozy harbor front gallery with its doors wide open to welcome you, the ocean breeze blowing straight through the entryways on either side of the walk-through gallery. Sosebee Studios has the intimate feel of a beach cottage while allowing plenty of space to enjoy its wealth of seaside-inspired art. Step inside and you’ll feel a relaxing sensation echoing off of the gallery’s walls, which are filled with the work of internationally acclaimed artists whose canvases grace the globe. You’ll likely meet owners Deb and Doug Sosebee, a wife-and-husband team of painters with 35 years of marriage, seven years of gallery ownership, and one artist daughter, Jessica, in their portfolios.
Debbie Sosebee is lovely, a dream exudes from her sea-blue eyes. “I was in high school when I knew I was going to be an artist,” she says. “At first, I really wanted to do fashion design, but my dad, who was a well-respected artist on Nantucket, really coaxed me into fine art.” Debbie’s husband Doug Sosebee has spent many years building homes on Nantucket, but his true passion comes alive when he trades his hammer for his paintbrush. Forty years ago, neither of the Sosebees ever would have guessed that they would each end up marrying an artist and opening a harborside gallery on Nantucket Island. Doug tells his version of their love story: “Deb and I met at art school 43 years ago.” It was 1969 and they were studying at Paier College of Art in New Haven, Connecticut.
Doug confides, “We were both dating, but not each other! We were good friends, though. You know, when we’d fight with our then-boyfriend and girlfriend, we would confide in each other but our relationship was totally platonic. We had classes together, and became really close friends.” Deb adds some perspective on their dynamics, saying, “In art school, Doug was the student who would do his entire project the night before, then still get the best grade in the class!” Doug claims that Deb is exaggerating before he admits, “Yes, I did often show up to class with wet paint. And it sometimes did upset [Deb] to know I had done my project the night before, then look at my grade and see that I’d done well. But we have different styles, and people appreciate different things about our work.”
Fortunately, their relationship did not end as college classmates. “During school, I had told her that I had this idea to open an arts and crafts shop,” says Doug. “But when we graduated, we each went back home, she to Stanford and me to Summers, Connecticut. She eventually contacted me and said she’d like to be involved with helping open the art shop.” So Debbie moved to Connecticut and the two college friends opened a little store called The Sun King, its name inspired by the Beatles’ Here Comes The Sun. Doug smiles as he recalls their old shop. “Not a very original name, I know. And of course we failed miserably! But we had great fun doing it. It was a little hippie-ish looking shop. We had stained glass, leather goods, silver; we had some of my watercolors in there, too. We found this old church cathedral door and put a sunburst on it. It was a cool little place, but I think we were a little ahead of our time. This was the early 70s, and we were standing around a potbelly stove melting paraffin.” Sparks between Debbie and Doug finally began to fly when they started working together.” Doug laughs as he says, “It wasn’t until she said she was leaving that I had to make a move so that she’d stay… so I proposed! We were so young that everyone saidour marriage robably wasn’t going to last. But here we are, 35 years later.”
Debbie adds to the tale: “We honeymooned on Nantucket. As soon as Doug saw Nantucket, he didn’t want to leave. So we stayed. And three years later, Jessica came along!”
The Sosebees found each other then had their beautiful daughter, but how did they find their way to painting? Debbie weighs in: “My husband had been a builder here for a long, long time. But really, he was a frustrated painter. He was only able to paint in his spare time.
My dad, Jack Eastman Brown, really was the start of it all. He passed away very suddenly in December of 2000. When we went to his house, we found that he had set up two easels and palettes and all the paints, and he had hundreds and hundreds of slides of Nantucket. We spent a week going through them all and we said, ‘We need to paint!’ It was one of those moments in time when you feel there’s a divinely connected purpose.
But it’s the most bizarre thing; Dad never had a chance to see what he’s done. Then Doug’s dad died in March of ’01, and the last thing he said to Doug was, ‘When are you going to start painting again?'” Debbie takes a moment to gaze across the waterfront as she remembers those couple of months that changed her family’s life forever. She says, “You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to see the cosmic lineup.” Island artist and gallery owner Tom Meilko started showing both of the Sosebees’ work in the gallery that is now home to the Sosebee Studios. “Our first show was incredibly successful; we almost sold out!” exclaims Debbie, “And we got commissions to do other projects. We had always painted, but now we realized people like our stuff!” After five years of managing Meilko’s gallery, all parties involved agreed that Debbie and Doug should own the gallery themselves. So the Sosebees embarked upon an adventure that would combine their worlds of art, love, and business.
The couple’s collaboration doesn’t even end with owning a gallery together; they actually share some of their painting projects. “It started out as an accident,” says Debbie. “Doug had started a couple of paintings and became too busy with his day job to finish them. He wasn’t crazy about them, but I loved what he had started, so I offered to help him pull them together.” The paintings quickly became something amazing, and they began to intentionally collaborate.
Debbie explains the process: “Doug starts a painting. All of his mentors were impressionists, so he has a really good grasp of values and color. I’ll come in and add in the details. A lot of people just can’t believe that we do this, they say, ‘He lets you finish his paintings?'” Debbie laughs and says, “After 35 years of marriage, I finish his sentences; why wouldn’t I finish his paintings?”
Nonetheless, they each remain an artist in their own right. “The hard part as an artist is finding your voice,” says Debbie. “I don’t want to just have a style.” She puts quotation marks around the last word and rolls her eyes before adding, “I want to have a meaningful impact and create art that is relevant. But to take that and make it concrete is difficult.”