Art In Transit

​​​​​​Camden Wall Mosaic Frieze​

​​Artist: Tom Thoune

Thirty-three mosaics inspired by local history, community involvement, and personal artifacts tell stories of Charlotte.  Local artist Thomas Thoune pieces together narratives describing South End and the surrounding neighborhoods using donated and handmade materials in a 360-foot mosaic frieze along Camden Road at the East/West Boulevard light rail station. 

​The individual mosaics resemble machine elements – cogs, gears and belts – referencing the area's textile and industrial past.  Residents donated their plates, glass and broken ceramics through a community collection arranged in conjunction with McColl Center for Visual Art.  Thoune recycled these materials into art, combining them with his own handmade ceramics and works by local students during artist-led workshops.  His artwork is dedicated to the community

Read below to learn about the story behind each individual cog. 

1. Magnolias, mechanical references, arrowheads, and pottery shards comprise Thomas Thoune's first mosaic at the north end of the Camden Wall, dedicated to the local character of North Carolina.  A magnolia graces the top, followed by gears and cog elements, anchored by an actual-size "big leaf" magnolia blossom towards the bottom.  Indigenous references to native flora, such as cicadas and trilliums, appear throughout the wall.  Arrowheads and broken pottery shards along the base of the art recall native Indian populations who settled by the Catawba River in the 1600s.  Slightly above, blue and white willowware,  collected liberally in the 1800s, mixes with arrowheads and pottery as if layered chronologically in a real archeological excavation.  This mosaic includes pieces of a honeymoon plate from Costa Rica that met an early demise in a husband's suitcase; it now finds a new permanent home in the wall

2. Shells and sea life cross the Pacific Ocean from the Polynesian Islands to the Camden Wall, serving as reminders 
of the material origins of early mosaic art:  shell, rock, and bone.

3. A snowflake design transforms ordinary coffee mugs into a winter wonderland.  The modern low-fire decaling technique producing kitsch cartoon ceramic decoration contrasts with the traditional mosaic  materials honored in the previous cog.

​4. Larger pieces of broken dinnerware demystify a common contemporary source material used throughout the Camden Wall
Cog # 2, 3, & 4

​​Cog #1

​5. Brilliant shades of blue and turquoise form gears and flowers.  Calico plates continue the cog motif in this work by local artist Patrick Robertson, who assisted the artist throughout the Camden Wall project.  Keepsake "Buck County" dogwood plates – yellow plates with black script – came from a family's northern beach cottage, are included in the lower right

​Cog #5

​7. The cog theme continues, introducing hornets.  The flying insects appear as a recurring design theme, referencing the "Hornet's Nest" moniker earned by Southern soldiers during Revolutionary War.

8. This mosaic combines elements of ugly face jug pottery with traditional bottle tree ornamentation. The bottle tree honors childhood observations of Wilmore, an older Charlotte neighborhood adjacent to South End.  The bottle tree, symbolic of spirit capture in Yoruba and African-American cultures often appeared in neighbor's front yards.  It was thought that painting dead trees and decorating them with glass bottles would capture evil spirits and prevent their interference with daily life.  Donated pieces in this mosaic include willowware,  a green and black ceramic pitcher, and a favorite creamer bequeathed from mother to son.  Lovebirds appear, foretelling stories ahead.

9. From behind a screen door, a girl watches a dragonfly.  The water sprinkler in the front yard indicates a summer day.  Petunias bask in a rubber intertube planter.  Cardinals perch on a weeping cherry tree.  The willow tree hints at willowware.  Hornets circle, a mosquito hovers, and a cicada rests on a poplar branch, while dandelions bloom below. 


Cog # 6

Cog # 7

Cog #8

​6. This element honors the contributions of entrepreneur and developer Edward Dilworth Latta, who founded the Charlotte Trouser Company in the former Lance building in South End in 1883.  A 19th century black-dotted sewing pattern is mirrored by a typical pair of pants.  The pants reveal sculpted eyes, noses, hands and feet as a homage to "ugly face" jug pottery.   Based on folk tradition, ugly face pottery would scare away spirits or mischievous children from prohibited contents.  Women's legs with nylon stockings reference another South End historic landmark, the Nebel Mill.  

Built in the late 1920s by William Nebel, the hosiery mill operated on nearby West Worthington Avenue, now renovated for office and retail use.  Scenes on plates depict women putting on nylons, watched enviously by clay mermaids and legless sea creatures.  Nylon references on tiles weave in and out of cogs.  Donated crystal such as punch bowls and candleholders lend sunburst patterns to clay surfaces.  Donated photographic tile from a local artist and photographer can be identified by dot patterns and half-tone screens typical of printing techniques. 

Cog #9

 10. A bottle tree swirls, propelled by cogs and gears.  Two chinois-like bottles have captured the love birds instead of evil spirits.  This cog includes the artist's personal caricatures and a corn pod design by an Iowan relative.  Contributions from local artists Patrick Robertson and Terry Shipley appear throughout the piece, with student works from Trinity Episcopal School and West Mecklenburg High School.  A 1920s teacup from a child's play set was a casualty of Hurricane Hugo, smashed by a pecan branch sent through the owner's dining room.  Green stained-glass of basement windows were donated from nearby Grace Covenant Church.

11. Cog elements with materials by West Mecklenburg High School juniors and seniors lead viewers towards a rippling blue and white waterway.  

12. Along the waterway, small frogs frolic among smooth black river stones, while orange goldfish glint between green lily pads created by third graders from Charlotte Montessori.  The stream leads to a collector's plate of the Charlotte Electronic Railway, commemorating Charlotte's first streetcar line which ran through Latta Park.  ​

                                                                    Cog #10

Cog #11, 12, 13 & 14

​13 & 14. These two rectangular cogs re-imagine life in Dilworth's past, honoring Charlotte's transportation history and subsequent city growth.  Entrepreneur and visionary Edward Dilworth Latta engaged Edison Electric Company in 1891 to build the city's first electric streetcar line.  It culminated in Latta Park, a residential and recreational development in Dilworth, envisioned by its namesake. The park included housing, a recreational lake, pavilion, merry-go-round, and sports fields, providing entertainment to both residents and visitors.  The mosaic recreates a typical afternoon row on the lake.  Water ripples, lilypads, and flowers made from donated wedding china lead to a bird's eye view of a woman with her rowing companion.  Her right hand lightly skims the water, and her left holds an open book, The Wizard of Oz, a popular classic published during this time, included as the artist's nod to visionaries of utopian society.  The word "Latta" appears mosaic in the lower right.  Otther donations include a great-grandmother's hand-painted Chinese plate, Franciscan-ware, a mother's 1936 wedding china, and prized rose-patterned china gifted upon the owner's relocation to a retirement home.

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