You’ve seen the 360-foot Camden Wall along the LYNX Blue Line if you’ve driven down Camden Road in South End between Worthington Avenue and West Boulevard. From a distance, it looks like bright representations of belts and cogs in machinery. That’s a nod to the historic significance of this area, which was home to businesses that made machinery for the textile industry.
“Where East Meets West,” the 2007 public art installation by Tom Thoune, just got a makeover last weekend, with volunteers on site from the South End Neighborhood Association repainting the wall around the 33 mosaic inserts. The inserts feature various materials from stone, to glass, to objects donated by the community.
If you look closer, you’ll find vignettes contained in the belts and cogs that tell parts of this area’s story. Five to look for:
(1) The star-crossed love story.
This blue cog incorporates blue willow china donated from locals’ collections. The china style features a design inspired by the Chinese tale of star-crossed lovers who were found out and turned into lovebirds by the spirits to save their souls. This cog reenvisions that story with two young lovers, a white woman and a black man, from Dilworth and Wilmore. The cog incorporates blue willow ceramics from the community and turquoise tiles from an old swimming pool.
(2) The story of the Hornet’s nest.
This cog references Charlotte’s nickname as a “hornet’s nest of rebellion,” supposedly coined by British General Cornwallis when he was opposed by Patriots at the 1780 Battle of Charlotte and Battle of Kings Mountain. Up close, you’ll see a hornet’s nest and, to the right, a hornet-like rebel with a gun.
(3) The boat in Latta Park’s former lake.
Back in the late 1800s, Latta Park contained a boating lake called Lake Forsyth. Here, Thoune depicts a woman in a boat with the book “The Wizard of Oz” open in her lap. The page is turned to a picture of developer Edward Dilworth Latta’s face. His company developed Dilworth, Charlotte’s first streetcar suburb, beginning in 1891.
“And so I put his head on a throne,” Thoune said, “to reference his idea of wanting to create a utopia. And ‘Wizard of Oz’ was written around the same time.”
(4) The tree with spirit bottles.
In the 1980s, Thoune recalls the Wilmore neighborhood as being more funky. He often saw painted sticks and bottle trees, the latter of which stem from Yoruba and African-American traditions.
“They believe that when you put a bottle, something shiny, (in a tree), it attracts a spirit, and the spirit gets trapped in there and then they live out a heaven inside there,” Thoune said. “It’s not a jail cell. It’s just another world. And they will not interfere with your life, because you have to get on with your life, and not be engaged with the dead.”
Look closely at the green glass — that comes from Grace Covenant Church on the corner of East and South Boulevards.
(5) Futuristic Charlotte.
In this cog, a circle of lovebirds reappears. And within, Thoune depicted Charlotte’s skyline with rooftop gardens and growing modes of transportation.
“Because we know it’s gonna change,” he said of his vision from 10 years ago.
And it most certainly has.
Photos: Katie Toussaint