Published: Jul 01, 2008 01:05 PM
Modified: Jul 01, 2008 01:05 PM
The similarities are uncanny.
In one piece, a large color photograph, six of Chapel Hill's famous flower ladies sit in a row of chairs on the Franklin Street sidewalk while another stands behind them. In the foreground at their feet is a riot of color -- cans and jugs full of the brilliantly hued flowers they sold to passersby. Visible behind them is a parked Studebaker pickup truck. At the far left, a boy of perhaps 10 or 12 stands with his arm on one woman's shoulder.
The other work is a somewhat stylized painting depicting six flower ladies from almost the same vantage point as the painting. Again, their flowers stand in glorious profusion at their feet. Again there's a boy in the picture -- this one a much younger boy, sleeping on one woman's lap. There's even a lone tree trunk behind them, as there is in the photo.
The painting, dated April 28, 1968, was done by Nancy Cornwell. Nobody with the town of Chapel Hill, which owns both works, knows who took the photograph, or when.
Both pieces are in an exhibition of works from the town's permanent collection now on display at the Chapel Hill Public Library.
"Some of the artwork we don't know anything about," said Steve Wright, the town's public art coordinator. "In fact, that's part of the motivation for doing this show. If anybody knows anything about some of these works, we'd love to hear about it. There's contact information on the labels accompanying each piece."
The town has more than 50 artworks in its permanent collection. Included in that number are the sculptures and other large works created through the Percent for Art program.
Most, though, are smaller works that came to the town as gifts or commissions. Some are on display in town buildings, but most of the works in the library exhibit have been in storage for years.
"Over the years the town has received a number of gifts of artwork, some of which are fairly old," Wright said "Now that there's a Publics Art Commission, there's an approval process for evaluating potential gifts. My guess is that a lot of these pieces predate that process."
Many of the works are by local artists Ńsome of whom we know quite a bit about, others very little. Eleanor Seng, a longtime Chapel Hill artist and art teacher, has a vigorous, vividly colored painting of Pritchard Avenue in the exhibit. Her works are in private and corporate collections throughout the state, and many of her students have gone on to become professional artists.
Six sketches by illustrator William Meade Prince, the author of "The Southern Part of Heaven," are included in the exhibit, as are abstract works by Victor Huggins and Madeleine Heidrick.
At least one piece in the show is by someone who definitely was not from around here. A print of a centaur by Salvador Dali is among the works on display.
And nearby, in the library's downstairs hall, is a stately formal portrait that, according to the small plate on the frame, portrays "W. S. Roberson, Mayor, 1911-1927."
Who painted it? That, so far, remains a mystery.
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