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Monday, October 12, 2009

Dormant Raleigh warehouse breathes again in Made in USA show

Posted by on Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Lady Liberty takes the stairs: David Wehrenberg at work prior to MUSA's opening (Photo by Rebekah L. Cowell)
  • Lady Liberty takes the stairs: David Wehrenberg at work prior to MUSA's opening (Photo by Rebekah L. Cowell)

Indy contributor Rebekah L. Cowell visited the Made in the USA exhibit in Raleigh prior to its official opening. She sends us this report.

Empty warehouses haunt the landscapes of many North Carolina cities. Some have been renovated into funky apartments, art spaces and restaurants, while many others remain shuttered.

On Friday, Oct. 2, a vacant warehouse at 320 S. Harrington in Raleigh-built in the days of the American Cotton Oil and Fertilizer Company-came to life.

Carter Hubbard and Sara Botwick, local art entrepreneurs, partnered with Otho Cozart, owner of the building that once hosted his thriving furniture manufacturing business, to bring a multimedia post-industrial art exhibit. Hubbard and Botwick's goal is "to produce an interpretive, visual perspective that will allow patrons to reflect on what it means to be 'made' in the USA-a question even more poignant in these current economic times." Thirty-six artists will be featured in the exhibition, showcasing a variety of media and styles.

The installation begin before you enter the 10,000 square feet warehouse. Outside is William Cozart, Inc., an eclectic antique emporium with stone floors under lofty ceilings. At the height of its production, the William Cozart furniture manufacturing company employed up to 35 workers. In the early '90s, the recession reduced the workforce by half. And as the story of furniture manufacturers in North Carolina goes, globalization gripped the small businesses across the state and reduced productions until slowly and mournfully the doors had to close all over the state, as they did at Cozart in 2002.

In the process of cleaning the space up enough to bring in installations and organize the chaos, Hubbard says the eerie quality of entering a building that seemed to be waiting for the workers' return, impressed upon her how vital it is to give old shuttered warehouses a chance to let the light in and breathe.

"Everything was still laid out as if there would be another day of work," said Hubbard, "paint cans on the counters, furniture still on the table, board cut but not yet assembled and tools everywhere. One day they just walked out."

Outside the building, the brick walls that surround the parking lot are resplendently covered in orange Chinese trumpet flowers and bright green kudzu. From here, visitors can head down an alleyway, guided by half-buried defunct train tracks.

The first "real" installation outside the warehouse is a pigeon coop, a piece credited to Matthew Zigler. The coop sits against the side of the warehouse-a building that still has barbed wire wrapped around its top, and still in possession of its mighty fans fans, silent behind louvered windows. Pigeon-keeping, a dying pastime of the urban working class, saw its demise in Raleigh accelerated by the diligent eradication by the city. Zigler explores this loss through an installation the viewer walks into, observing oil paintings of pigeons and becoming a participant in the scene.

Once inside the warehouse. visitors will become enveloped by grit, grime and sweat.

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