Veteran Artists

02 Feb 2020

A vibrant community of artisans with military ties

By Ray Owen

Community and culture are, without a doubt, the beating heart of the Sandhills. You feel its pulse in our downtown streets, alive with locals and day trippers. Such vibrancy is fueled by a growing number of artisans moving to the region – furniture makers, jewelry designers, painters, potters, textile artists – many with military ties.

Don Parks is among a wave of creatives who moved to the area in the past decade. Colorful canvasses line the walls of his second-story studio above Eye Candy Gallery on Broad Street in downtown Southern Pines. “I like painting landscapes,” he says with a smile.

“I was a little kid when I first started, but didn’t work at my art continuously. I needed an education to get anywhere, so I served in the U.S. Air Force, joining up after getting my bachelor’s degree. It was the Vietnam War era and I worked for the Bureau of Information, sent to different parts of the world to look at political activity.”

A graduate of Syracuse University with a PhD in Art and Art Education, during the Clinton administration he worked on the White House Commission for the Arts and is a past vice president of the board for the Barnes Museum Foundation in Philadelphia.

Don and his wife, Barbara, came to Southern Pines to serve as caregivers for their daughter, Amylouise Parks. “She was wounded while serving as a trauma nurse, the only survivor from her unit. She lives independently and we’re here to take care of things when needed.”

Amylouise is a jewelry designer who exhibits at Eye Candy Gallery with her father. “It started out as therapy because it helps to have something to focus on with my head injury and PTSD. I work mostly with sterling silver or platinum. I brought back different gemstones from overseas and began putting them into jewelry – my business grew from there.”

“It makes me feel good when folks react positively to my work. Trauma nurses are people pleasers, so when others like my pieces it helps fill that void. I find it really beautiful when something I’ve created makes somebody happy.”

“There’s so much I love about Southern Pines. I traveled all over the world to find a place like this, where everyone helps each other out. It’s home and all my best friends from the army retired here, too, along with their families.”

A strong sense of community played a big part in Jake Kerr’s decision to locate his furniture making enterprise here. “The people were the first thing I liked about the area. I got to know some of the locals and I really liked the vibe.”

Jake’s shop, Welding Wood, is located behind O’Donnell’s Pub in downtown Southern Pines. “I’ve always been a builder. I’ve always been able to look at things and see the final product in my head.”

Crafting handmade furnishings from scratch, he melds locally sourced woods with metal and epoxy resins to create one-of-a-kind pieces. “I hate mass producing anything. What I enjoy is doing the one-off pieces and having it change. Maybe one person wants a large dining room table and another wants a bar in their house – I like the variety.”

“I was at Ft. Bragg and this was the last duty station when I got out. The Special Operations soldiers naturally gravitate to town because of its proximity to where we work on base, so that’s what brought me here originally.”

“Several friends I grew up with enlisted and we spent our entire careers together, starting from West Point. We all branched infantry, going to the same duty stations and deployments. Then we went into Special Ops and the Ranger Regiment, ultimately coming here to work in the Joint Special Operations community. Fast-forward to wives and kids – and now we’re all here.”

“I left for a while, went to New York City and worked as a financial advisor and hated it. I don’t regret the experience, because I wanted to see what else was out there. But I don’t like wearing a suit and a lot of the people I just didn’t even feel comfortable shaking hands with. I’m kind of old school, even though I’m not that old.”

Of his return to Southern Pines, Jake says, “I like walking downtown. I can’t go out without bumping into three people I know. I appreciate that type of stuff. When I got out of the military I could have lived anywhere, but I chose this place in particular for that reason.”

“It’s funny because if someone asks where I’m from, my initial reaction is to say ‘Southern Pines,’ that’s just how I feel now. Almost everybody I’ve met welcomes everyone and right out of the gate I started getting invited to barbecues and parties. I’ve committed to this area and plan on being here until the end of my days.”

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