There was a time when Madison Avenue tried to make the world think that smoking was cool. Remember the Marlboro Man and ladies smoking Kools? And yes, Durham and its various brands played their part.
The streets of Durham were run by tobacco barons like Mr. Duke and others, and people from both black and white neighborhoods worked in the factories and fields. Nearby Wilson and Rocky Mount also have a rich tobacco history.
Did you ever wonder what became of those towns after the tobacco industry transitioned?
Well, local artist Tony Alderman is wondering the same thing about our fishing communities.
Tony is spending a lot of his time on the coast when he is not here with his wife and adult son. He is finding that a lot of the young people are moving away, finding the back-breaking work of their prents and grandparents a dead-end field they want no part of. Recently, while talking to him at Respite, a popular tea shop near Brightleaf, he told me the average age in the town he is looking at is about 50.
It wasn’t long ago that folks were thinking the same about Durham, that it was a dying town, before it went through the renovations that are bringing more people downtown every day. A rebirth that is seeing new restaurants, entrepreneurial businesses and residents moving in.
One can only hope that Varnamtown, N.C., the community that Tony is documenting, can find some similar way to reinvent itself. And not just become another Norman Rockwell-type painting people look at it to remember the way things were.
I have family who have worked in farming, so I have seen what the demise of the small farm can do to a community. Whether it is Durham, Warrenton or Detroit, we all have seen what happens when major industries and ways of life disappear.
If nothing else we need to support Tony as he documents this important part of history. To learn more, Google “The Varmantown project” or go to nando.com/zr.
Here is what Tony says about the project on his page. “The men and women in the little fishing towns of North Carolina have made their living from the sea for centuries.
“Varnamtown is one of these small dying fishing communities along the eastern coast of North Carolina. Unfortunately, this way of life is rapidly disappearing and an important chapter in our history will soon be lost with little visual record of its existence.
“The Varnamtown project mission is to preserve on canvas, for future generations, the visual history of this way of life.”
This non-profit project will support the creation of:
▪ 20 acrylic paintings
▪ 15 to 20 watercolors, painted on location
▪ A traveling exhibit across North Carolina
▪ Giclée prints and a book will be available at the culmination of the Varnamtown project.
▪ A portion of the sales of the paintings, prints and the book will go to Varnamtown and the Brunswick County Historical Society.
Just like Durham remembers all its rich history through the History Hub, this is another project spearheaded by a Durham resident to remember another vital part of our state’s history.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t wait to see what comes out of this. And who knows? Maybe in the near future, there will be efforts to find ways to rescue this dying town. And like a Phoenix, and Durham, it too will rise from the ashes.
Marc Lee grew up and lives in Durham. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org