All Fun and Whimsy

Frame Your Day with Fun and WhimsyBig Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery Showcases 45 Local Artists  By Julie Root

If you enjoy dressing to the nines and attending fancy gallery showings, Champagne in hand as you marvel at the fabulous creations of the latest darlings of the art world, then Big Mama’s Hula Girl Gallery ain’t for you, darlin’.

But it is one of the darlings of the quirky, laidback art scene in Grayton Beach — a slice of the real Old Florida on the Emerald Coast.

This fun and funky artist co-op is jam-packed with colorful and whimsical artwork from more than 45 local artists, from lauded folk artist Woodie Long to one-of-a-kind jewelry creations by multi-talented artist and musician Alice Bargeron.

Robin Colletta of Santa Rosa Beach highly recommends Big Mama’s to everyone who enjoys playful and quirky artwork. “I make a point to bring family and visiting friends to Big Mama’s and inevitably someone finds something that reminds them of their vacation here along the most beautiful beaches in the world,” Colletta said. “It’s impossible to go in that place and not find something that speaks to you, even if it’s the crazy, offbeat you that you hide from the rest of the world.”

Visitors to the gallery will notice a few changes introduced by new owner Laura Holthoff, who purchased the co-op from longtime owner and Alabama folk artist Debbie Weant-Lane. But don’t worry, you can still kick back in the seating area in the middle of the gallery, grab a beer or glass of wine from the fancifully painted fridge and chat up the artists and locals who enjoy hanging out, as well as the ever-personable Holthoff.

A painter herself and interior designer, Arkansas native Holthoff decided to buy the co-op after deciding not to put off her dream of living and working in her favorite vacation spot of more than 12 years. “I thought doing something like this would come later in life, then I thought, ‘Why wait?’” she said. The business is a family affair, owned by Holthoff and her mother, brother and sister — all artists themselves. Even her nine-year-old nephew Gray chips in with his own paintings.

Mother Lois Ann creates acrylic paintings of realistic nautical scenes, often incorporating colorful fish and palm trees. Sister Rachel specializes in handmade stationary and jewelry, while brother Byron paints whimsical fish, crabs and the like on wood plank and metal, as well as creating custom-made wood furniture.

Holthoff is making a few changes inside, using her interior design skills to organize exhibits differently to suit her unique style. “I’ll eventually offer interior design to customers from the gallery, since I’ve been in the business for 14 years,” she said.

Travel writers the world over have visited Big Mama’s, and word is getting out in the area’s booming tourism industry. “I always tell visitors that when you enter Big Mama Hula Girl Gallery, get ready for sensory overload,” said Tracy Louthain of the Beaches of South Walton Tourist Development Council.

As the area tourism council’s public relations director, Louthain makes an effort to bring visiting travel writers and other influential media professionals to visit what she calls one of her own favorite places.

“Our 2006 Artist of the Year, Phil Kiser, is often at the gallery serving up some Southern hospitality and showcasing his brilliant creations made from recycled glass,” said Louthain. Kiser uses hundreds of hand-cut pieces of antique plates, mason jars, recycled mirrors and vintage glass  carefully laid together to catch the light-producing awe-inspiring images that have become wildly popular.

Other notable art includes Dwight Ward’s award-winning pottery and uniquely fun and funky folk sculptures by Kris Meigs.

If you’ve dreamt of having a sculpture of Willie Nelson or Mick Jagger in your home, Meigs is your woman. She also works on commissions, so a likeness of you can also be made.

“Every artist has their ‘fun stuff.’ Mine is sculpture and I love doing it,” said Meigs. “I will work a month on a series of paper maches and it is like a vacation. Before Christmas I work on a series of gourds … another vacation.”

Patrons will also discover cottage décor by Bill Hodge Furniture and Art, and animal lovers will delight in Allison DeVaughn’s custom pet portraits. And Holthoff plans to add more artists to the co-op. “As long as it is funky and colorful, it will fit in here,” she said.

Although the art alone is worth the trip, Big Mama’s is more than just a gallery. It’s a local hangout where the friendly folks of Grayton Beach and surrounding beach communities like to gather and catch up on local happenings. “We keep up a very fun atmosphere,” said Holthoff. “We had an open house which turned into a huge party, and that’s what it’s all about, getting together and having a good time. You could never leave this place in a bad mood,” she added.

Louthain agrees.

“Laura is a delight to work with and is keeping many of the gallery’s traditions,” she said.

Big Mama’s has also continued to offer something for everyone. Holthoff says items are available for as little as 25 cents to up to $5,000.

“Laura has also kept the philosophy of offering art at all price points. Whether you’re looking for that large piece for your home or just some fun, funky jewelry, Big Mama’s is a must stop,” says Louthain.

To take a virtual tour of the gallery, visit