- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Cindy Pettinaro Wilkinson launched her art collection on the side of the road.

Then a college sophomore living in Virginia, Wilkinson discovered a Rea Redifer landscape at a garage sale. The tree rang familiar, but she knew nothing about the female artist.

Only later did she learn that Redifer was, in fact, male, and a friend of Andrew Wyeth, who hailed from the Brandywine Valley.

That happy accident inspired Wilkinson, now 43 and a mother of four, to seek out Cheap Original Cool Art, her Riverfront gallery’s namesake. Art purchases are typically impulse buys, she says. You feel it in your gut.

“If you like it,” she continues, “it will make your house a home.”

COCA at 952 S. Justison St. specializes in original art from local artists priced under $500. Local delivery is available for a $25 fee.

Unlike a standard gallery, 70 percent of the proceeds go to the artist, 20 percent to charity and about 10 percent to fund operations, Wilkinson says.

Her motivation was simple: Encourage emerging artists to continue their craft while showing customers original art can be affordable and more sentimental than a print from HomeGoods.

One couple bought a painting of vintage cars for their first anniversary and vowed to celebrate each subsequent year with a piece of original art, Wilkerson remembers. A frantic decorator once arrived at 7 a.m. to find a modern centerpiece for her client’s yacht.

Started last year, COCA has raised a total of $13,000 for nonprofits like the Delaware Theatre Company, Kind to Kids Foundation, Young@Art, Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Wilkinson says. Besides hosting monthly events related to the downtown Art Loop, the gallery is open by appointment only.

The walls are crammed with hundreds of framed works, from still lifes to landscapes to abstract figures. A tiny painting of a bulbous pepper by Wilkinson’s mother-in-law, Jan, fits in a kitchen nook, while a 7-foot-long contemporary work becomes a living room showpiece. A back room full of art prints, priced from $10 to $65, is geared toward children.

Wilkinson, who works full-time as president of Pettinaro Relocation, has maintained relationships with about 40 local artists, including landscape painters George Martz and Rick Phillips, contemporary realist painter Lisa Ashley, floral and animal painter Kathy Ruck, and oil painter Kevin Brown (who produces luscious portraits of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches).

Many of the artists exhibit at local craft shows and art festivals. Wilkinson supplements their work with pieces she finds during their travels, donating all proceeds to charity.

Recently, she began carrying a select number of higher-end works priced from $800 to $2,000 to satisfy client demand. She also opened a satellite location at Union Park Honda at 1704 Pennsylvania Ave., which sells a rotating set of 60 works and is open during regular business hours.

Besides visual art, COCA carries handmade coasters, vintage furniture and a limited selection of jewelry by Olga Ganoudis, a Wilmington designer who has worked on the “Game of Thrones” and “Lost” television series.

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