Healing springs and a Civil War love story inspired the names of the towns Fuquay and Varina, and now they’re inspiring artists as well.
Artists from around the Triangle have been creating works for display downtown. Sponsored by the Fuquay-Varina Downtown Association, “Pop! Fuquay-Varina Downtown” aims to bring more customers to downtown businesses and to spruce up empty storefronts.
The exhibit had no requirements, except the art had to be inspired by the town. Some pieces have focused on history, while others have gone more abstract.
Lee Moore Crawford and Renee Leverty, two Durham-based artists, are using the ideas of love, water and healing in their exhibit, recently hung in the window at 504 Broad St.
Next door, a team of artists from Fuquay-Varina’s Artistic Expressions co-op put together another water-focused exhibit incorporating photography, stained glass, ceramics and textiles.
Naomi M. Riley, executive director of the downtown association, said she believes the project will help both the artists and the stores gain exposure as pedestrians visit places they might not have otherwise.
“It’s working,” she said. “They’re stopping. And it’s wonderful when you can stop people in their tracks.”
The displays will be up through the end of November, but Riley said she’s interested in a possible permanent art display downtown.
Crawford said she plans to also blog about how people’s interactions with water here affect what happens in counties all the way to the coast, in hopes of raising ecological awareness.
In the store, they will also display water-filled jugs based on the work of Japanese artist Masura Emoto, who believes people’s thoughts and prayers can affect water molecules.
One of the emotions people will be asked to direct toward a jug is love, which the artists said was inspired by the history of Varina.
During the Civil War, women would write letters of encouragement to soldiers. One of those soldiers, J.D. Ballentine, received a letter from a woman who signed with the pet name of Varina.
He tracked her down after the war and eventually married her, naming the town in her honor.
Leverty said since love is so important in the history of Varina, and water is so important to Fuquay – where travelers from far and wide used to visit a spring believed to have healing powers – it makes sense to combine love and water in their exhibit.
“It’s so common for us to bless our food before we eat it, but not so common to bless our water,” she said. “So this is a vehicle for us to do that.”
Other projects have been more straightforward.
John Suteu, an Apex woodworker, took material from a 100-year-old house that was scheduled to be torn down. He used it to build a miniature scene of the spring at 124 S. Main St.
Looking to the future, artists Helen Seebold and Erin Lawler are encouraging people to take photos of themselves at Fuquay Mineral Spring Park and post them online with the hashtag #selfiesatthespring.
The photos will be shared on social media as well as in the windows of Elliot’s Pharmacy on Main Street.
Artists enjoy having their work shown to a wider audience than they would find in a gallery, said Jessica Moore of the Open Art Society. She chose the artists to display works in Fuquay-Varina and is organizing the exhibits.
Moore said she thinks projects like these can help revitalize downtown areas. A previous project in Greensboro proved that, she said.
“One of the buildings we did in Greensboro sold after being on the market for years,” Moore said. “This makes people notice things they might not have before, or they see it in a different way.”
Riley, of the downtown association, said there aren’t too many empty buildings, but that it would be nice if they were all full – maybe with art studios.
She said part of the reason for inviting artists from all over the Triangle, instead of just Fuquay-Varina, was to introduce the town to the larger arts community.
“And maybe we’ll get them to move here, or open up shop here,” Riley said.