Like Alice’s visit to Wonderland, Siler City residents of a hundred years ago would find quite a different place were they to show up downtown today. But for three spring months starting on March 21, one thing they wouldn’t be surprised to see is a multitude of rabbits. The Chatham Rabbit, to be exact.
That’s right. Chicago had their cows. Raleigh had wolves. Siler City had rabbits…and they’ll soon be back.
Organized by the Open Art Society in partnership with the North Carolina Arts Incubator, Pop! Siler City has awarded ten regional artist stipends with funding from the Chatham Arts Council’s Grassroots Arts Program for the creation of original 2- and 3-dimensional public art pieces and works of multi-media that focus on the Chatham Rabbit. With cooperation from local merchants and property owners, the art works will be installed in underutilized storefronts and window spaces in downtown Siler City. The work will reference tales of how a wild animal intertwined with culture and commerce in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to make Siler City the epicenter of the national rabbit trade.
Yep, that’s right.
Never heard of the Chatham Rabbit, you say? As history tells it, dining establishments of distinction sought the Chatham Rabbit as a prized menu item for their patrons. However, as Pittsboro’s Will Sexton writes in his blog, “…the rabbit wasn’t just a source of coin for the county, but also of identity. The people who lived here took pride in the place as the finest source of rabbit in the country, an accolade readily recognized in North Carolina and beyond.”
Eventually, the rabbit was over-hunted and fell out of favor as a mouth-watering entree. And later Siler City’s once-bustling manufacturing base and poultry production facilities slowed to a standstill.
Fortunately, the town now can point to the arts as its revitalizing engine. Thanks to a robust Siler City Merchants Association and a number of independently owned galleries and shops, the bustling Courtyard Cafe, and monthly musical and community events in and around the central Courtyard, long-time residents are re-discovering downtown. Meanwhile, the programs, events, artist studios, and retail gallery opportunities provided by the NC Arts Incubator have for years quietly attracted creative types from across the country.
Among them is the Arts Incubator’s interim director J.R. Butler, who hails from Colorado. He and artist Roger Person participated in the Fuquay-Varina Open Art Society public art event and had such a good time that they convinced Open Art Society to come to Siler City. And now that it’s happening, they’re right in the thick of it. In these days leading up to the launch of Pop!, J.R. can be found on two-story scaffolding painting a 20-foot-tall rabbit conceived by Person on the side of Person’s gallery.
Consider Person’s permanently painted hare the ambassador for Pop! Siler City that will provide a unique, place-based public art experience for visitors. Oral histories arranged by the Chatham Historical Association will enrich the launch day–and there’s an antique car show to boot. And the best part? At the end of Alice’s adventure she awoke from a dream, but what’s happening in Siler City is real and will continue to define the town as a North Carolina Piedmont arts mecca.
Here at the Chatham Arts Council, we’re proud to have chosen the North Carolina Arts Incubator’s Pop! Siler City project for grant funding. Our Grassroots Arts Grant program is made possible through funding from the North Carolina Arts Council.
- Go See This: Pop! Siler City
- When: Saturday, March 21 2-5 p.m. (opening celebration) through May 2015
- Where: Downtown Siler City
- How Much: Free, self-guided walking tours at your own pace
- For More Info: North Carolina Arts Incubator
- Accessibility: Accessible parking and facilities
- Open Art Society
- Open Art Society, Pop! Siler City
- Will Sexton’s blog on The Chatham Rabbit
- Siler City Merchants Association
- Chatham Historical Society
Person to Person Gallery
The feature image on this post is art by Roger Person.