Tuesday, May 14, 2019

EXPLORE | You've got to SEE Wilson NC This Summer!

Eyes on Main Street Outdoor Photo Festival

Once heralded as “The World’s Greatest Tobacco Market,” Wilson, NC is now a thriving (and artsy) city of almost 50,000 people. During the heyday of the tobacco market in the late 1800's to early 1900's, it was home to prosperous farmers and businessmen and had one of the most beautiful residential areas along Nash Street, in North Carolina. Now the historic downtown district, features many historically-preserved buildings that are successful restaurants, businesses and shops. The city plays host to a burgeoning arts community. A unique whirligig park is located in the center of town filled with massive, wind-driven, kinetic sculptures designed and constructed by renowned folk artist, Vollis Simpson. Eyes on Main Street, an outdoor photo festival, celebrates its fifth year in Wilson this Spring and Summer through August 4.

Never having been to the town of Wilson, NC, I was intrigued by an invite to attend the Outdoor Photo Festival that was kicking off April 27, called EYES ON MAIN STREET in the heart of historic downtown. Wilson is approximately 46 miles away, an easy drive from Raleigh.

Eyes on Main Street is celebrating its fifth year and runs for 100 days in the Spring/Summer. The festival kicked off in late April and runs through August 4th. The main streets of Wilson (Nash Street and Tarboro Street) are transformed into a vibrant outdoor gallery of large-scale photographs.

100 prominent photographers from 45 countries feature their photos on 100 storefront windows over 100 days.

Arriving Saturday morning I attended one of the special lectures that was being presented for the grand opening weekend by one of the participating photographers, Robert Nickelsberg. Bob worked as a TIME magazine contract photographer for nearly thirty years, specializing in political and cultural change in developing countries. The crowd consisted mainly of American and International photographers that were participating in the event and they were in town to celebrate the kickoff weekend of the festival, many traveling to Wilson from different far away corners of the world.

After the lecture, I got outside and started walking the main streets of historic Wilson, excited to view the large scale photographs on display. These stunning photos are framed by historic building facades, old windows, brick walls and historic storefronts, some in good shape, some still in need of restoration. Either way, they provide a unique and creative setting for the large photos in the exhibit.

Turning the street corner and taking in the real fabric of the historic city block used to showcase these large photos taken from all over the world creates a unique experience for a photo exhibit, and makes it easy to view at a relaxing pace. I loved walking the streets at my own pace and see new and interesting photos everywhere. Historic Wilson is an ideal setting since the festival theme is the interpretation of main street and culture by the photographers. Each photo, framed by different buildings, telling different stories.

One of my favorite photos in the exhibit was taken by a photographer William Klein (who just turned 91 in April). His photo is also the largest featured in the exhibit and it can be viewed on the side of an old warehouse just literally on the other side of the Wilson railway tracks. I absolutely loved walking around the town and snapping my own photos on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon. If you love photography, this is a fantastic place to exercise your creativity and snap your own photos (very instagram-worthy !).

Jerome De Perlinghi, a renowned photojournalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, (check out his stunning portrait series!), spearheads this epic event. He is a Belgian born photographer who moved to Wilson years ago and created the Eyes On Main Street photo festival. The exhibit is co-curated by Ghadah Alrawi and Carol Johnson and the theme focuses on the idea of "Main Street, a Crossroad of Cultures" and the photos exhibited feature the individual photographers' interpretations of the interweaving of cultures and geography through photography. The participating photographers are an equally balanced number of male and female photographers displaying work. This year is the fifth year of the festival and the addition of more exhibits running at the same time makes Historic Downtown Wilson literally a crossroads for photography.

I sat down with Jerome on opening day and he was excited about this year's festival and he shared with me about all the positive energy that the festival brings into the city and how it is helping with the rejuvenation of the downtown historic center by bringing more and more people to Wilson every year to participate or see the festival. This event is part of the exciting things happening in historic Wilson that is contributing to Wilson's art scene, creating more opportunities for businesses to open and is breathing new life into Wilson. All of these things make for a fun day trip or overnight from cities like Raleigh, Cary and Durham.

Jerome De Perlinghi, Director & Curator of Eyes on Main Street

This year they have added additional exhibits enriching the festival for visitors with more photography, art and creativity on display. These exhibits include the Children's Photography Program that features more than 100 photos taken by local children learning photography, many for the first time in their lives using a real camera. There is also a large scale outdoor Children's Photo Gallery that includes 70 large scale photographs on the corner of South Street and Goldsboro Street an across from the Whirligig Park.

The Artist in Residence program/studio which is fast becoming popular for photographers from all around the world, looking to work on a personal project in which they stay in town for a month with a focus on Wilson for their portfolio or photo project.

Another more contemporary exhibit this year is in its own gallery, Eyes on Australia, a look at Contemporary Photography in Australia, curated by Lucy Stranger and includes all female photographers.

Opening of Children's Gallery

Children's Outdoor Photography Gallery

Local student art beautifying the walkways between streets

There are several different places to eat and drink in Historic Downtown Wilson. Wilson is famous for BBQ and also hosts a variety of restaurants, breweries, and wine shops as well. We enjoyed a great sandwich and coffee at Tig's Courtyard.

While visiting Wilson, make time for a beer at 217 Brew Works in the heart of historic downtown. It is ideally located next to the outside children's gallery and the famous Whirligig park is directly across from the brewery. The park also hosts the Farmer's Market over the Spring/Summer months Wednesday through Saturday, 8-1pm.

Tig's Courtyard

217 Brew Works

Farmers Market at Whirligig Park

You can’t go to Wilson without seeing the famous Whirligig Park with 31 spinning, shining whirligig installations. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park & Museum opened in the heart of downtown historic Wilson in 2017. The two-acre park features the largest collection of the 50-foot installations in the world! There is a lot of scheduled events for the summer.

Wedding Showcase May 21 6-8 pm at the Whirligig Park-Free to attend

Wilson is a great town for families with young children. There are plenty of kid friendly activities in the heart of historic downtown, including parks, museums, children's art galleries, ice cream shops and the Whirligig Park. If you enjoy art and photography, plan a relaxing day trip to Wilson to explore the Eyes On Main Street exhibit this Summer, and take in the outdoor and indoor galleries, antique shops, restaurants, breweries and much more!

I enjoyed my day trip to Wilson and will be back this summer with the family.
Get to Wilson...Lots of great photo ops for sure ;-)

RWU | Eyes on Main Street | Historic Downtown Wilson

Photo collection by RaleighWhatsUp

For more about my visit check out my Instastories  @RaleighWhatsUp 

For more WILSON info check out:

Wilson NC Visitor Center | Eyes On Main Street | Historic Downtown Wilson

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