Cameron Barnstormer Murals

The Cameron Barnstormer Murals are graffiti paintings in Cameron in North Carolina. The buildings were painted by a Cameron local, a young artist named David Ellis. He came back home with a few of his artist friends in 1999. Together, they painted a total of 25 buildings.

Cameron is a small town in Moore County in North Carolina. According to the 2010 census, its population was 285. The town grew from a plank road that later became a railroad. The town was incorporated in 1876, a year after it was planned.

It covers a total area of 1 square mile of land. Neighboring towns are Carthage to the west and Vass to the south.

Cameron, North Carolina

The town of Cameron was located at the end of the Raleigh and Augusta Railroad. This was a prime location that attracted entrepreneurs to set up businesses. The businessmen who settled there managed to build a number of businesses, including;

· Turpentine distilleries

· Mercantile

· Hotel businesses

These enterprises were established to serve the customers of the railroad. They in turn led to a thriving dewberry farming and consignment operation.

David Ellis

Born to a preacher father, David was creative and restless. His parents were Grace and Reverend Steward Ellis. They are now retired and live on a farm in Clemmons. They attest that their son showed artistic prowess from a young age. David would paint vivid images. His mother has told of a painting he did of the tooth fairy once. He painted it after visualizing the image in his head. This specific painting brought uncertainties to his father’s parishioners. They would question how David knew what the tooth fairy actually looked like.

From a young age, David was fascinated by music. His father has claimed that David would paint sound. He would relate to music in an artistic way. His fascination with hip-hop music developed when he was in eighth grade. The mid-1980s saw a rise in hip hop culture. David was interested in all aspects of it; rapping, breakdancing, and graffiti art.

When he was old enough, he went to Union Pines High School. He made a friend named John Carter. Together, they left Cameron to pursue their artistic interests. David was enrolled at the North Carolina School of the Arts. The high school was in Winston-Salem, a long way from his hometown. He spent two years at the school learning all he could about art.

He graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and went to New York. He attended the School of Visual Arts. He went to The Cooper Union. It is a prestigious art and engineering school. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the school in 1994.

In New York, David made friends with like-minded individuals in art. At the time, street art was starting to gain popularity. Some of the well-known artists of the time are;

· Jean-Michel Basquiat

· Keith Haring

David built a circle of friends with artists from all over the world. He got the idea to bring his friends back home in 1996.

The Plan

David’s idea was to take some of his artist friends back home to Cameron. The town had numerous tobacco barns that were bare. David had used some of the buildings as a canvas as he grew up. His idea was for his friends to paint street art on the walls of the various buildings. Early canvases included;

· Tobacco barns

· Chicken houses

· Outbuildings

· Farm trucks

He invited some of his friends who he thought would like to paint on a large scale. Those who were interested in painting street art in the countryside.

The Project

After securing permission from the barn owners, David’s project began in 1998. He brought home about 50 artists who immediately started working. The project was completed after a few summers.

David has already gained fame for his artwork as he grew up. He had even done a mural on the cafeteria wall at his school.

The group received assistance from some of the locals. These included;

1. A librarian from the high school supplied them with early cell phones. This allowed the artists to communicate from their different workstations. The barns and buildings were spread out all over Cameron.

2. Some people brought food to where the artists were working. They could camp out at a location for days at a time. This happened mainly when they were working on barns that were close together. They also worked on some outliers and used a campground as their base.

3. Some locals came together to watch the artists’ work.

4. The local newspaper gave them the name; Barnstormers

The project was completed by 2000. It included colorful murals on 25 barns all over the county. It gained a lot of popularity but eventually died down. The buildings were subjected to natural wear and tear. The paint peeled and faded as the years went on.

Creating a Tourist Destination

The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA) invited David for an exhibition. This was in 2004. David and his friends took down one barn and brought it to the exhibition. There, they painted and repainted the walls as people watched in awe. The whole experience is shortened into a 30-minute lapse video.

The murals gained more popularity online as people shared images. People have been known to travel to Cameron just to take photos with the murals as background. At the old antique shop called The Old Hardware, are maps to the barns. The maps list all 25 barns and clearly guide tourists to the location of each of them.

The Barnstormers made art out of something that did not exist. Through David Ellis, they transformed a small town into a tourist destination. It has been more than 20 years since the barns were painted and still people travel to see them. They have endured hurricanes and the North Carolina heat. Even though they have faded and peeled, you can still make out the painted images.