In Remembrance of Iconic Beaufort Artist Craig Gurganus

A benefit for Craig’s family will held July 16 at Beaufort Grocery

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Submitted by David Cartier for Craig Gurganus and family

Craig Gurganus, one of coastal North Carolina’s most popular artists, longtime Beaufort resident, and creator of the Fish Bouffant, has passed away. Craig died peacefully at his home on Monday, July 8, from liver cancer.

In November 2018, doctors in Chapel Hill treated Craig with experimental drugs that resulted in little to no success. Craig’s hope continued that maybe there was a chance to beat it. But the reality has set in.The dream of better health for Craig’s future just did not exist. 

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The ongoing devastating threat to Craig’s physical body, the overwhelming emotional agony, and insurmountable financial burden due to lost income from his art, medical expenses, unpayable bills has further compromised Craig’s continuing struggle to survive.

With the looming cost of living becoming totally unaffordable, even for his most basic necessities: housing, utilities, food, medications, healthcare provider’s bills, transportation and essential personal care items are all but out of reach – and bills keep coming.

Learn about a benefit event for Craig’s family

These unconscionable conditions were unbearable stressors that directly wreak havoc on each precious present moment that Craig had left.

A GoFundMe campaign netted over $25,000 in less than 72 hours. Donations have ranged from $5 to over $4,000 to help Craig’s family, including his son Simon.

“While there was nothing we could do to change Craig’s prognosis, we do have the ability to change the outcome,” organizers said.

A major fundraiser is planned at Beaufort Grocery Company on Tuesday, July 16, from 6-9 p.m.

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The event will also be a tribute to Craig and his creative recycled surfboard art. Anyone that would like to be part of an exhibit should bring their pieces of Craig’s art in advance for display at Beaufort Grocery Company. 

Organizers hope to see a full-fledged menagerie of creatures on display including sailfish, dragonflies, shrimp, ladybugs, tiger sharks, oysters, and more. They would like to make this the largest exhibit of Fish Bouffant art ever to honor Craig! 

The cost to attend is $65 per person and includes food, wine and beer. All proceeds will go to Craig’s family.

Food will be provided by Beaufort Grocery Company and live music by Beaufort Blues Project. There will also be a Silent Auction of items from the community.

A GoFundMe campaign is underway for Craig so you can donate online 

According to the “Fish Bouffant” legend, Craig snapped his one and only board while surfing in San Diego one day in 1987. On the drive home from the beach he had what some people would describe as an epiphany.

Craig caught a glimpse of a fish outline in one of the pieces of his broken surfboard. He decided he would reuse that broken surfboard and make it useful again. He would eventually turn it into a fish.

Craig’s idea and the concept of Fish Bouffant was born.

From that piece, Craig developed the fish that would become the first of a full-fledged menagerie of creatures including sailfish, dragonflies, wahoo, shrimp, oysters, ladybugs, tiger sharks and more.

According to Craig, “Bouffant is a happy word in French.” He explained, “It’s supposed to make you happy, in a very big way. My pieces are very cartoonish.”

The “happy” aspect is an important part of Craig’s creations. But, so is the recycling element as well.

Craig moved to Beaufort around 1990. He originally came here to paint houses. He also ran into a girl from his hometown, and that was it. 

Craig’s former marriage to Becky Stokes produced one son, Simon. Now a 22-year old young man, with dreams of further education.

Wendy Park, co-owner of Beaufort Grocery Company, needed her house painted and heard Craig was the man to get. 

“All of a sudden, his art takes off and I never did get him to paint my house,” Park said.

Throughout his 20-plus-year career, Craig surprised and delighted local residents and visitors with his many whimsical creations. His works have been displayed in several local businesses and art galleries.

Beaufort Grocery Company has displayed Craig’s art since he started.

His exhibits have included Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.

Craig’s surfboard art can also be found in private collections (including those of ex-presidents and many celebrities) all over the world.

In June 2017, Craig was featured in a 22-page pictorial about Beaufort in Our State Magazine. The following year, he was featured in a Our State’s video “Around Town: Beaufort.”

Craig fell in love with Beaufort. “I felt very comfortable here and made this my home,” he said.

And the town embraced Craig. “People in Beaufort truly care and look out for local artists,” he said.

The real story behind Fish Bouffant is the artist himself. Craig did not need a movement to tell us kindness mattered. He lived it.

Craig touched many people with his art. From Beaufort to across the country, Craig even developed an international fan base.

But it’s the people from Beaufort that Craig remembered most.

One of Craig’s wishes is to make sure people in Beaufort know he was thankful for their support.

“The community has been amazing,” he said. “I wish I could thank them all.”