Enter: three local artists and a boarded up old building. The building adjacent to OTPH on Catawba Ave is undergoing restoration and while the owner is redoing the interior walls and front windows, plywood had been installed to protect the building. This group of artists had a vision for that plywood to transform from an on-going restoration to an opportunity for town beautification.
The mural was a collaboration of Cornelius Cultural Arts Group (CCAG) Artist Collective members, Brant Waldeck, Justin Christenbery and Maguerico “Rico” Nye. How it once appeared was opportunity seized. An anonymous donor came forward and contacted Case Warnemunde, the founder of Bella Love, with the desire to beautify the well traveled roadway. Warnemunde contacted artists Justin Christenbery and Rico Nye who immediately put together a plan of action. “I love how the inspiration for all this has snowballed,” Christenbery said. “Before this mural, there were countless other acts of public creativity. This wall in particular has an interesting past recently including two or three very different and beautiful styles using trompe l’oeil and illustrative graffiti. We, we being myself and the talented Maguerico Nye, knew everyone involved wanted something representative of the town of Cornelius and the creative revolution happening here. Right off the bat we knew we wanted to juxtapose realism with abstraction. When we came across this great shot by Brant Waldeck of the infamous Jack Conard, who happens to be the town historian, it was obvious that we had to incorporate him.”
The two had several collaboration discussions and got right to work! Nye, who like Christenbery has participated in live painting at OTC festivals like the Tawba Walk and 2nd Friday’s, hopes this work of public art will inspire other creatives to continue the trend toward outward expression in our area.
“There’s a strong sense of fellowship, history and art in the town of Cornelius. What better way to uplift the community than to immortalize the town historian with a mural dedicated to him. Give back to the man who has documented the town’s growth over the decades while bringing a little color to Catawba Ave. As the project began to unfold, we received immense positive feedback from the residents. If Justin and I were able to turn plywood into an intense visual statement that embodies the heart of Cornelius, then imagine what can be done by others in the community. With the help of the CCAG and artists like Justin Christenbery, Brant Waldeck and unwavering support of Case and Bella Love, we can bring attention to the tenacious spirit of the artists and visionaries that sculpt the landscape of our community.” — Maguerico “Rico” Nye
So, who exactly is Jack?
Chances are if you live in Cornelius, or if you’ve ever stopped in Old Town Public House, you’ve met Jack.
Born and raised in Cornelius, Jack has a knack for storytelling. His seemingly never-ending supply of knowledge has fascinated those who have had the pleasure of meeting him. Affectionately referred to as the “unofficial” town historian, Jack Conard Jr. spends his waking hours preserving photos and memories of the town’s early roots as a rural cotton mill town, while also documenting the burgeoning cultural arts scene we experience today.
Fittingly, historian Conard lives in a historic home in Old Town, the front of which was built in the early 1900s and the back of which was built by Conard himself, using an eclectic mix of salvaged supplies, like the stained glass windows from old churches and bars.
Jack’s extensive photo collection is truly a spectacle to behold, only rivaled by his daily journal entries chronicling conversations, observations, and details that would otherwise be lost in time. He spends his evenings sharing stories with friends and neighbors at Old Town Public House. Jack has a way of listening and re-telling accounts of how things once were with kindness and compassion that after even the briefest of encounters, you walk away feeling like family.
Pieces of his collection can be found in the History Room at Town Hall or at his home on Main St which his mom’s grand-dad built and lived in before Cornelius was incorporated.
Historian Jack Conard Jr, Artists: Justin Christenbery, Maguerico Nye and photographer Brant Waldeck (Christine Dietz photo)