Get to Know a Local: Kathryn Holton Stewart of Silver Bonsai Gallery

By Molly Harrison | Monday, March 18, 2024

All across the Outer Banks people are doing their best to make a living while still finding time to enjoy this wonderful place they call home. In this edition of Get to Know a Local, you will meet one of them, Kathryn Holton Stewart, managing owner and goldsmith at Silver Bonsai Gallery in Manteo. 

Kathryn and her husband, Ben Stewart, jointly created Silver Bonsai Gallery. They came up with the idea to open their studio gallery in 1997 and opened the doors the following year in 1998, just before they were married.  

“We wanted a place to create our jewelry, so the studio space to work in was a key necessity and from there we decided to incorporate all things beautifully handcrafted from a variety of mediums,” Kathryn says. “The name was inspired by a lovely sculpture we had made, The Silver Bonsai, and so we naturally realized we should incorporate Bonsai trees as well.” 

Twenty-five years later, Silver Bonsai Gallery has grown to be a highly respected destination for handcrafted jewelry and fine art and craft not only within the Outer Banks but nationally.

Photo: Silver Bonsai Gallery on U.S. Highway 64/264 in Manteo.

Their team at Silver Bonsai includes longtime employee Jimmie Lee Brooks. 

“Lee had been coming here as an actor and dancer at The Lost Colony, and one year he decided he would like to stay for the winter,” Kathryn says. “He joined us as a check-out person and immediately showed exciting potential in the jewelry arts. We moved him into an apprenticeship, and 13 years later his skills abound and he creates Jewelry with Ben and I in our Modern Heirloom® Jewelry Studio.” 

Their other team member is Daniel Ziegler, who keeps the website up to date with beautiful pictures of the artwork. He manages the front house and is a talented painter. Janet Brumfield is the lady of the plants, keeping the greenhouse and plants happy and healthy.  

“We are lucky to have such a great team at Silver Bonsai and love greeting visitors as the wander in to visit,” Kathryn says. 

The gallery houses a variety of creations in their gallery on Highway 64/264 in Manteo, and everything is online at  

“After a lot of hard work this year, the website is now a mirror image of the art, craft and jewelry available on any given day, so when you're not able to visit in person be sure to visit online,” Kathryn says. 

Keep reading to learn about the Outer Banks life of this very talented local artist. 

How long have you lived on the Outer Banks and how did you end up here? 
I was brought here at six months old (I am now almost 50). My dad had been offered the job to be the town doctor in Manteo and so we moved to the area in 1974. I left to go to art school and moved out west to Oregon for a bit to create jewelry, but didn’t stay away long before returning to open our gallery. Ben came back with me so we have both been here since 1997 

How did you get into this line of work? 
Ben and I have similar stories as we were each studying illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design, where we met. Neither of us were happy with the illustration department at Savannah, which resulted in a change of direction when I took a jewelry class. Ben and I were friends there, and he had a little experience in jewelry already, so he started tinkering just for fun. We both quickly decided to change focus and ultimately received BFAs in Metals and Jewelry in 1995. It was then that Ben and I decided to form our creative partnership and hit the road to open a studio together.  

Photo: An example of Modern Heirloom Jewelry, which Kathryn and her husband, Ben Stewart, create and sell at Silver Bonsai Gallery.

What did you do before you were in this business?  
We have only ever done this since college, although in our earliest days we both worked at 1587 restaurant in Manteo. My sister was a chef there at the time, so she put Ben in the kitchen painting the dessert plates (he had excellent skills with raspberry coolé and chocolate), and I was a bartender. This sustained us for the year we renovated our building and worked to create our business.  

What motivates you to work hard in your line of work?  
Creativity drives me, and I love that we were to bring a beautiful gallery to my hometown to not only support our creative endeavors but to support many other artists. 

What’s your favorite thing about your job?  
That is a hard question as it truly depends on the day. I of course love making jewelry. I also love that our studio is open to the public as I enjoy interacting with our visitors and bringing attention to handmade products when we exist in such a mass production–driven world. I also love doing my part to support other artists along the way. 

What’s the most challenging part of your job?  
It is definitely a labor of love as it can be such challenging work juggling all the aspects of business ownership while stealing creative moments as often as possible. It can be a lot of weight to bear keeping the business thriving. Especially having been shut down from flooding in two major hurricanes, then the pandemic and most recently being shut down again by a broken toilet tank flooding the showroom. It can be a constant effort finding time to do all the added things necessary and still feel inspired. There’s advertising, inventory, display, maintenance, customer relations and more, meanwhile also creating and designing; the juggle is real. As icing on the cake add that we are parents to two amazing girls ages 22 and 8, a dog, a rabbit, a sugar glider, a bearded dragon, a cat and two horses. Needless to say, life can be a bit overwhelmingly busy, but truly I love every hat I wear, well about every, and I would not have it any other way. 

Photo: A ring Kathryn recently designed and crafted for their Modern Heirloom brand

What is your favorite medium?  
That is a hard one. I love each metal for varied reasons. My favorite is working in silver and gold together, but I should add that engraving platinum is dreamy. 

What are three of your favorite local restaurants – one each for breakfast, lunch and dinner? 
Darrell's for breakfast, Shaddai for lunch (I am addicted to the ceviche), I don’t have one favorite for dinner I am afraid. I used to, but they have each closed. I have high hopes for the new chef at 1587 to bring it back to its early days. I love Blue Water for the wings and Lost Colony Tavern for their burgers. 

What is your favorite local seafood?  
Depends on the season but definitely oysters and tuna. 

What’s your favorite OBX town or village?  
Why, Manteo, of course. It has been extremely exciting to watch it grow and evolve in recent years. It is a beautiful place. 

What is your favorite thing about living on the Outer Banks?  
It is a peaceful step back in time on Roanoke island. 

What is your favorite season on the Outer Banks?  

What do you do for fun?  
I ride horses. I love wandering the beach, the island and anywhere we can by horseback. When not riding I love to care for them and just spend time grooming and loving. 

Photo: Kathryn riding one of her horses at the beach

What do you do in the off-season?  
Enjoy creativity, spend a little more time playing games with our family and friends, and enjoy my horses. 

What is your favorite beach access?  
Coquina Beach to ride out from and Jennette’s Pier for a quick easy beach moment. We love Fishheads at Outer Banks Pier as well. 

Describe your perfect day off.  
Take my horse out to Coquina Beach or Buxton Woods to ride. I love seeing the scenery pass by and chatting with friends as we stroll. Return home after and toss something in the smoker or oven and cook a bit as it relaxes me, and then have our crew come over to eat and game the night away. That is a perfect day off. 

Do you see more sunrises or sunsets?  
Sunsets, although I did ride Coquina once at sunrise and it was stunning. 

What’s one thing you wish more Outer Banks visitors knew?  
How cool Roanoke Island is, although they are starting to figure that out more and more. 

Where do you go on vacation?  
I am a staycation personality, so often right here at home. But I do want to take my horses to Sugar Ridge for a vacay sometime. 

Photo: The Stewart family: Maizie, Alyse, Ben and Kathryn

Do you have any side hustles?  
Not really, although our daughter is creating a name for herself in the illustration world of Dungeons and Dragons and Fantasy Illustration, so we have been playing with creating toward that genre. Soon we may have a side hustle there. I am also working to learn leather art, and I am excited to see what that leads me to create.  

Do you have any pet projects or is there a local nonprofit that you’re passionate about?  
Anything to make this area better for kids and the arts, so I love organizations like Theatre of Dare and Dare County Arts Council. 

What’s one item on your bucket list? 
I am not sure I have one, which sounds crazy to me. Just to keep evolving and improving our homestead as it is in a constant state of landscaping and development it seems. I would love a studio space at home someday. And I guess I could add visit New Zealand, but that is a lot of travel and I am a bit of a homebody. 

Find out more about Silver Bonsai Gallery here.

About the Author Molly Harrison
Molly Harrison is managing editor at OneBoat, publisher of She moved to Nags Head in 1994 and since then has made her living writing articles and creating publications about the people, places and culture of the Outer Banks.