Southport almost always shows up near the top of the list when you search online for the best vacation sites in North Carolina, but only a few years ago, things were much different in the Brunswick County town, where the pace was much slower, and as some residents tell us, life was simpler.
Much of what Southport used to look like can be found in a new book, put together by a Brunswick County native who has spent the past several years gathering art work from one of the town's most famous citizens, Art Newton.
In recent years, the number of vacationers to Southport has been increasing, but really took off following the Nicholas Sparks movie Safe Haven that was filmed in the area three years ago.
Southport native Tommy Harrelson remembers when life in his home town had a much simpler pace, back when he said lazy dogs slept under the live oak trees in the middle of streets made of sand and oyster shells.
He has compiled this moment and many others through a collection of Newton's artwork.
"Art Newton was a local photographer and artists, he was also a commercial artists, but he most loved watercolors, he loved to paint local scenes, scenes on the river and of the ocean," Harrelson explained.
Newton's extensive work varied from pen and inks, pencil sketches and oil paintings, but he had a great love of watercolors.
When Newton was growing up and living in Southport, the local economy was heavily dependent on the water. Many days, Newton spent hours looking at the ocean and the Cape Fear River, then pulling out his equipment, to capture the scenes on film and on canvas.
Newton went to school in Southport and later attended art school in Cincinnati, following by a stint in the Coast Guard, and attendance in art schools in New York.
But he never lost contact with his hometown of Southport, often returning to exhibit his work before he and his new wife and new son, returned to Southport in 1946, where he did commercial art work, and was once even the Art Director of WMFD and WECT.
It is evident in the pictures in Harrelson's book that Newton loved his hometown. He painted many scenes of the waterfront, of people who worked on the water, and scenes of those who came to Brunswick County to spend their vacations. But his favorite subjects to paint were shrimp boats.
"He had an exhibit called shrimp boats, at work and rest, so he did like to paint shrimp boats," Harrelson said.
Harrelson once studied art under Newton's guidance and became interested in Newton's work after obtaining a piece of work from his father.
Today, paintings done by Newton are mostly in private homes and businesses. But for his book, Harrelson was able to contact many people, who loaned him their work to be photographed and included in the publication.
Sadly, Newton lost his life in the summer of 1964, when he drowned in the Cape Fear River, the same river he had painted so often, and enjoyed some of his happiest moments on.
But thanks to Harrelson, the work of Art Newton is being revealed once again to thousands of people in his book that is now available at area book stores.
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