Local Arts

Charlotte trolley shelters celebrate city’s history

When the Charlotte Area Transit System inaugurated the the first phase of the Gold Line trolley in July, it also added New Orleans artist Nancy Gutkin O’Neil’s “Making Connections” glass windscreens, featured at each of the six trolley stops.

O’Neil was selected in 2012 from a field of 60 artists to develop and deliver the vibrant and expansive glass windscreen collages that detail the histories of the neighborhoods that surround each stop on the $37 million transit project.

She spent six months meeting with groups and individuals and researched the histories of each area using historical archives, The Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and a host of other sources.

“Making Connections” is teeming with histories personal and civic, geographic and economic, social and cultural, all brought to life in an inspired compilation of photographs, text, maps, diagrams and botanical renderings, among other things, layered by the artist in a dynamic collage format.

Charlotte is among a growing number of cities that have adopted the Federal Transit Administration’s policy that encourages the inclusion of art in transit systems. The art budget for the Gold line was $210,000.

Moments in history

Levine Museum of the New South historian Tom Hanchett toured with the artist during her initial visit to provide an overview of the area’s history, and he lent a hand by providing documents and photographs.

According to Hanchett: “Nancy got deep enough into the history to reveal a sense of place, a sense of history now vanished. She discovered photographs and information that I didn’t know about.”

She worked with neighborhood associations, community leaders and others to gain insight into the fabric of our community’s past and our journey to today.

And the shelters are a breath of fresh air – in carefully compiling moments of note in neighborhoods near and far, the artist has transformed a museum display into a public procession.

The many findings of her efforts are seen in print, image and color-schemed glass along the CityLYNX Gold Line’s six stops. Among the moments captured or noted:

▪ The Confederate army commandeering of the Mecklenburg County Iron Works in 1862 for use as the Confederate Naval Yard.

▪ That the Neptune Company men were some of Charlotte’s earliest African-American firefighters.

▪ Charlottean Hal Kemp became a renowned composer and big band leader in the 1930s.

These and a great many more milestones and Charlotte residents are remembered for deeds, developments and civic and individual achievements.

‘It’s more modern’

I talked with a sampling of riders who seemed to appreciate the work.

“Having this ... it’s more modern. It’s clean, it’s glass and you can see what’s around you,” said Tatiana Pisarski, originally from Moldova, Serbia, and now living in Charlotte. “It’s better than what New York has with those tacky paper concert and theater posters advertising performances ...”

O’Neil has uncovered and distilled our varied histories and those collective, defining moments that are now available to us all in a compelling story dynamically presented as snapshots, maps, illustrations, text and more.

Much like amber, in which the articulated and polished gem provides a glimpse of a living ecosystem, the artist’s contribution to riders of the Gold Line is perhaps best expressed as human moments of effort, eloquence, tribulation, failure and, most important, perseverance.

Trolley art

At a glance: New Orleans artist Nancy Gutkin O’Neil created the “Making Connections” trolley art project, composed of 11 glass shelters built from 44 glass panels. The line runs 1.5 miles from uptown to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

Budget: $210,000.

The look: Colorful design collages that detail the histories of the neighborhoods surrounding the shelters.